Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is in the running to house the Air Force's new KC-46A Pegasus aerial tankers. That would be quite a coup for the sprawling New Jersey military facility.
To snag such a lucrative deal would go a long way to ensuring the base will continue to serve a vital role in the nation's defense policy and will remain open for many years to come.
New Jersey's congressional delegation recently announced that the joint base is one of five finalists in the running to serve as the headquarters for the fleet of tankers.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th) described it as a "positive step."
That's great news for the base that sits on 42,000 contiguous acres in Burlington and Ocean counties. It is the state's second-largest employer with about 40,000 workers and injects almost $7 billion into the local economy, according to the New Jersey Defense Enhancement Coalition. The base also supports about 65,500 indirect jobs, the coalition says.
But the New Jersey facility is up against some stiff competition for the new aircraft. Also in the hunt to house the fleet of KC-46s are Dover Air Force Base, just a hop-skip-and-jump away in Delaware, as well as Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Wash.; Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota; and Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif.
New Jersey's lawmakers in Washington know only too well that Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is not immune from the budget ax. In 1993, the Pentagon proposed scaling back operations at McGuire Air Force Base and shifting those duties to Plattsburgh Air Force Base in New York. It took a joint effort by New Jersey legislators and civic leaders to scuttle that proposal, and it was the Plattsburgh base that was eventually closed.
During another round of base closings in 2005, the three local military installations banded together to form a unique joint base that offered greater economy and efficiency.
More recently, New Jersey lawmakers were successful in heading off any potential cutbacks to the base by including a measure in the National Defense Authorization Act that specifically blocks the Defense Department from undertaking a new round of base closings in the coming fiscal year.
"The joint base is one of our nation's premier air mobility installations, and a great option for housing the KC-46," said Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3rd), whose district includes the joint base.
MacArthur and fellow Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st) have played a key role inchampioning the joint base's survival.
"The next generation of air refueling tankers at New Jersey's joint base would mean certainty for future generations of New Jerseyans, for our national security, and the state's economy," Norcross said.
The state's lawmakers say they are committed to push the Air Force to select the New Jersey base to house the new wide-body aircraft that will replace the aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, which have been the Air Force's refueling workhorse for more than 50 years.
The Air Force is expected to make a final decision before the end of the year.
As U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) pointed out, the base is "strongly positioned from a geographic and strategic standpoint to continue hosting the Air Force's critical refueling mission with new, state-of-the-art aircraft."
Let's hope the Air Force agrees with that assessment. There is a lot at stake for New Jersey.