It’s official: KC-46 tankers coming to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst
It’s official: The next batch of the Air Force’s new KC-46 air-refueling tankers is coming to Joint Base-McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, a development that goes a long way toward ensuring the future of the installation for decades to come.
U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, and U.S. Reps. Tom MacArthur, R-3rd of Toms River; Donald Norcross, D-1st of Camden; and Chris Smith, R-4th of Hamilton, announced the decision Thursday after being briefed by Air Force officials.
The Air Force made its own public announcement later Thursday afternoon.
Twenty-four of the jets are due to arrive at the base beginning in 2020. In a surprise move, the Air Force announced that it also would send 24 planes to Travis Air Force Base in California, which was one of the five finalist installations under consideration.
The other finalists were Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Fairchild Air Force base in Washington. and Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.
The Air Force was originally expecting to choose only one base to receive between 24 and 36 tankers.
In the Air Force’s statement, Secretary Deborah Lee James said the joint base and Travis met all operational requirements for the mission and offered the “best value for the Air Force and the American taxpayer.”
“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.
New Jersey lawmakers were thrilled with the outcome, saying it would help secure the joint base’s future.
“This is incredible news for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the state of New Jersey, and the future of national security in the United States,” MacArthur said. “This truly was a team effort, and because of that, over 42,000 New Jersey residents in my district who are employed at the base and the thousands of additional jobs in the surrounding area that rely on its survival can breathe easy knowing the joint base will remain our nation’s premier air mobility installation.”
“Today’s news marks the next chapter in the joint base’s outstanding service to America, and the future looks strong,” Norcross said. “The hardworking men and women at the base
represent the best of the best in New Jersey and the Air Force. Stationing the KC-46 fleet at Joint Base McGuire–Dix–Lakehurst is a recognition of the strategic importance of the base and New Jersey to our country’s national security. This will help protect the base from BRAC closure for years to come, leading to more jobs, greater economic growth and a stronger, safer nation.”
Obtaining the jets was considered crucial to the base, as midair refueling is the largest mission performed there. Currently, 32 KC-10s and eight KC-135 tankers are housed at the base; the KC-46 is expected to eventually replace both.
The joint base, which is the country’s only tri-service installation, was passed over by the Air Force three years ago when it selected the first three bases for the new tanker jets. McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas was picked as the first active-duty base, Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma was selected as the first training site, and Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire was chosen as the first Air National Guard site.
For this round, the Air Force considered only locations with both active-duty and Reserve components.
Boeing, which is building the jets, expects to deliver the first new planes in January 2018. The joint base’s planes are scheduled to arrive about two years later.
The jets are being built as upgrades for the 1950s-era KC-135s and KC-10s, which have been in service since the early 1980s.
The KC-10 was previously targeted for early retirement by the Air Force to deal with mandatory spending cutbacks. New Jersey officials feared that if the joint base lost those planes before KC-46 replacements were assigned, it would put the installation at risk, particularly during another round of base closures.
MacArthur and Norcross succeeded in getting language inserted into a defense bill signed into law in 2015 that prevented the Air Force from retiring the KC-10s without assigning replacements. However, that prohibition was only for two years, making the Air Force’s decision all the more important.
The KC-10s are still likely to be phased out over time as their air frames grow older and require retrofitting. But with newer replacements now assigned, the long-term risk to the base is lifted.
Air Force leaders said they would likely begin phasing out both the KC-135s and the KC-10s in 2019 as the newer jets are built.
Protecting and enhancing the joint base is deemed one of the most important tasks for New Jersey’s congressional delegation, along with state lawmakers, because it is New Jersey’s second-largest employer, behind only the state itself. It contributes close to $7 billion to the state’s economy, officials said.
New Jersey lawmakers had engaged in a fierce lobbying effort to try to secure the tankers, writing letters and meeting personally with James and other Air Force leaders to advocate and argue in favor of the base’s advantages.
On Thursday, those lawmakers cheered the Air Force’s decision and said their collective efforts paid off.
“Today is a great day for air mobility operations at (the joint base) and for New Jersey,” Menendez said. “We have known all along that New Jersey is a prime location for this next-generation refueling tanker, and this decision only improves JBMDL’s position as a premier power projection platform.”
“I applaud the Air Force’s decision to designate Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst as a KC-46 main operating base,” Booker said. “JBMDL’s strong track record in tanker and airlift operations, its prime location, and the thousands of military flight hours our service men and women perform each year ensures the base is the right choice for the KC-46. I was proud to work with my colleagues in advocating for this designation that will provide the Air Force with critical capability and bring jobs and economic opportunity to JBMDL and New Jersey.”
“Securing this vitally important air refueling mission not only significantly enhances U.S. military power but will ensure the sustainability of the JB from any future closure,” said Smith, dean of New Jersey’s congressional delegation who represents a large portion of the installation.
“The service members at the joint base have truly earned this mission.”
Gov. Chris Christie also participated in the lobbying effort. He and MacArthur spoke directly to James about the importance of the base to the state, and Norcross met with her Wednesday.
“This is a monumental decision for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and the people of New Jersey, including the tens of thousands of military families who dedicate their lives by serving at the base,” Christie said. “I’m proud of and excited for the base, and with this news look forward to seeing it continue to grow as a beacon of strength, hope and security for our state, region and nation.”
Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, who sponsored a resolution in the state Senate encouraging the Air Force the select the base for the KC-46 mission, said the nation and all of New Jersey benefit from the joint base and its jobs and missions.
“Joint Base MDL provides our state with thousands of great jobs, and that’s why I sponsored a resolution urging the Air Force and Congress to pick it as the new home for the KC-46s. This new mission will ensure the base remains a viable military installation for decades to come,” Allen said.
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