FAIRFIELD — Travis Air Force Base was one of two installations named by Air Force officials Thursday as the preferred locations for the next two active-duty homes for the KC-46A Pegasus air tanker.
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst was the other base named by the Secretary of the Air Force’s office Thursday afternoon.
Each base is expected to get 24 KC-46s some time in 2020. The KC-46A aircraft will replace the air tankers currently at each of those bases, according to the Air Force announcement.
Col. John Klein, 60th Air Mobility Wing commander, called decision “great news for our installation.”
“We are excited for this enhanced refueling capability that will allow us to continue to ‘rapidly project American power any time . . . anywhere,’ ” Klein said in a prepared statement.
Klein called the decision “a testament to the unprecedented support from our community who understands Travis’ critical role in enabling worldwide military operations.”
Local leaders also responded positively to the announcement, which comes after years of work to secure the new air tanker for the Fairfield base.
“It is just great, and it is great news for Travis, the Air Force, Fairfield and all of Solano County,” Fairfield Mayor Harry Price said.
Price praised the lobbying efforts at all levels from recent Travis Community Consortium trips to Washington, D.C., to efforts by Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, who Price described as a tireless supporter of the Fairfield base.
Garamendi said he could not be happier with the decision. He said Travis’ community support, infrastructure, personnel and geographic location “make it the ideal choice to base the KC-46A tanker.” Garamendi said that the history of local community support for Travis has been “extremely important” in the Air Force’s decision.
“They have a reputation as being the most supportive,” Garamendi said of the local community.
A joint statement by Garamendi and California U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both Democrats, applauded the decision to base the new KC-46A Pegasus refueling tanker at Travis.
“Today’s announcement shows the Air Force recognizes the base’s strategic importance and is committed to making long-term investments so Travis Air Force Base continues to play a critical role in protecting our nation,” the statement said.
Garamendi said that bringing KC-46s to Travis is part of an ongoing effort to ensure that Travis gets the most advanced technology and modern infrastructure possible.
“This decision demonstrates the Air Force’s commitment to Travis as a base that will continue to play a crucial role in our national defense for many decades to come,” Garamendi said. “The future of Travis today is more secure than ever.”
Travis Community Consortium Chairwoman Sandy Person called the announcement “fantastic news.”
“Solano County worked hard so that Travis would be well-positioned to receive this vital new mission capability,” Person said.
Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said in the initial announcement Thursday that Travis was chosen as one of the next two bases for the KC-46 because it “met all operational mission requirements at the best value for the Air Force and the American taxpayer and support our tanker recapitalization strategy.”
“It is absolutely essential that we continue investing in the next generation of tanker aircraft so we have the aircraft necessary to maintain the nation’s global reach for years to come,” James said in the announcement.
Fairchild Air Force Base and Grand Forks Air Force Base will be considered as alternatives during the environmental impact analysis process, which is required before a final basing decision is made, according to the Air Force. Travis and McGuire will undergo that process this year. The environmental review is expected to wrap up in early 2018.
Garamendi said it was highly unlikely that there would be anything that would pose a problem to the KC-46s’ deployment at Travis, especially with all that has been done to protect the base and continually improve its infrastructure.
Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma; McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas; Pease Air National Guard Station, New Hampshire; and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, have already been selected as future KC-46 basing locations.
The first KC-46As are expected to begin arriving at McConnell and Altus this fall.
The Air Force doesn’t plan to start retiring its older air tankers until the tanker fleet reaches the service’s 479 tanker requirement. When that happens depends on the KC-46s’ delivery schedule.
Travis and McGuire are currently home to the KC-10 Extender. Travis itself has 24 KC-10 aircraft.
The Air Force said the KC-46 will give the American military extended refueling capabilities, improved global reach and enable timely joint-service response to humanitarian crises and contingency operations around the world.
“In fact in the fight against ISIL, the Air Force and Joint and Coalition partners depend on gas from our tankers,” Air Force Chief of Staff David Golden said in the announcement. “In 2016, the Coalition flew over 13,600 tanker sorties, fueling aircraft nearly 80,000 times, delivering about 800 million pounds of fuel.”
ISIL stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. It is another name for the Islamic State group that’s operating in large swaths of Syria and Iraq, and a portion of Libya.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.