McConnell AFB in Wichita, Kan. beat out Fairchild AFB to be the preferred base for the next generation KC-46A tanker, it was announced early Wednesday morning.
"This is an extremely unfortunate decision by the Air Force. Fairchild Air Force Base has a strong tradition as an integral part of our national defense and is ideally located, particularly as U.S. strategy calls for directing greater attention to the Pacific theater," Gov. Jay Inslee said.
McConnell, home to the 22nd Air Refueling Wing, was competing with Fairchild, Altus AFB in Oklahoma and Grand Forks AFB in North Dakota to become the preferred tanker base. Additionally, McConnell was competing with Altus to be the primary training base for the tanker. Since McConnell was selected as the primary tanker base, Altus AFB was selected as the training base, according to the Wichita Eagle.
Reaction from congressional leaders working to secure the KC-46A for Fairchild came within hours of the news breaking that McConnell has been tapped. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers issued a joint statement expressing their disappointment over the Air Force's decision.
"Today’s decision by the Air Force is extremely disappointing, and seems to ignore the obvious advantages Fairchild has to support the military’s regional and global priorities and major flight programs like the KC-46A," Senator Murray said. "While pressing the top levels of the Pentagon for answers on today’s decisions, I will continue to work with the full delegation for future investments in Fairchild, including new tankers in the next rounds of basing decisions."
"The Secretary of the Air Force stated today that Fairchild will be a strong contender for future tanker basing decisions," said Senator Cantwell. "While today’s preliminary tanker decision is disappointing, I will work with the Washington delegation and local leaders to bring new tankers to Fairchild and ensure it remains a vital asset for our nation's tanker program. With Fairchild's 50-year history as a vital resource in the U.S. tanker refueling program, Spokane remains a strong choice for locating future refueling tankers."
"This is not a loss. The Air Force has plans to procure 179 KC-46A refueling tankers. It is important to remember that this is only the first installment of 36 tankers. While it was our hope that Fairchild would be the preferred base to host the next-generation refueling tankers, today’s announcement continues to bolster Fairchild’s vibrant mission. In the next few years, the Air Force will continue to base KC-46A refueling tankers at additional installations," said Rep. McMorris Rodgers. "Moving forward, Fairchild will compete very well and is in an excellent position to receive them."
In a separate message, Sen. Murray said she would be meeting with General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to discuss the basing decision with them and express concerns that Fairchild wasn't selected in light of its geographic location to support the military's emerging focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
The Air Force will now conduct environmental impact statements at both McConnell and Altus, which is standard whenever a new aircraft is scheduled to be based at an installation. McMorris Rodgers said that the Air Force will be preparing an environmental impact statement on Fairchild, as it was named a reasonable alternative base for the tanker.
Fairchild's position as being one of the top contenders for the KC-46A may not only help its chances of getting the tanker in the future, but if it does get the tanker it could secure its position against a Pentagon proposal for another round of base closures and consolidation in 2015.
During the last BRAC effort in 2005, Fairchild was realigned, with the 141st Air Refueling Wing becoming associated with the 92nd Air Refueling Wing. This decision meant the wing lost its tankers, which were transferred to the Iowa Air National Guard.
The KC-46A, developed from the Boeing 767 airframe, will be built in Everett and then be fitted out for the tanker mission at a separate Boeing location in Puget Sound. The contract, worth roughly $32 billion when it was awarded in 2011, calls for 179 tankers to replace the Air Force's fleet of more than 400 KC-135 tankers.
The Air Force's plan calls for all tankers in the KC-46A program to be built by 2028.