Release of the basing criteria for the KC-46A, the new U.S. Air Force tanker, finally gives local military, civic and business leaders the opportunity to make their case for Fairchild Air Force Base.
Although Monday’s release of the factors that will go into base selection started a countdown toward decisions due in December, Fairchild, Spokane and Washington officials have worked for years to maintain good communications with the Air Force and Pentagon, here and in missions to Washington, D.C. Many of the military officials who will be involved in the selection process have visited Fairchild.
Really, no one has relaxed completely since successive rounds of base closures going back to 1989 made clear no facility was safe. Pending cuts in defense spending, notwithstanding recent votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, portend another reassessment of military facilities. With new tankers, Fairchild would be assured a place for decades to come.
That would mean continued paychecks for more than 5,000 military and civilian workers. Construction of new facilities to handle the new planes would likely add many more jobs, at least for a short time.
Fortunately, investment in the base has been ongoing, with groundbreaking for a new command center the most recent sign the Air Force remains committed to Fairchild. Last year, a new runway was constructed, and amenities like the fitness center have been upgraded. Because the KC-46A, based on the Boeing 767, is much larger than the KC-135s now at Fairchild, new hangars may be required, but that will be necessary at almost any other of the 60-plus bases competing to become one of three that will receive the new tankers in 2016 and 2018.
Location, fueling capabilities and “potential to establish an association” are also positives. Association relates to co-location of active duty and Air National Guard units. Fairchild hosts the 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the Washington Air National Guard 141st Air Refueling Wing, so an association already exists.
Fairchild may compare less well to a few bases in its training capabilities. And, of course, there is the concern a proposed West Plains tribal casino might conflict with airspace requirements, another Air Force criterion. Spokane county and city officials will sign ordinances Thursday intended to minimize encroachment. It would be good if Airway Heights and Medical Lake officials would add their signatures despite concerns the ordinances are too restrictive.
With so much at stake, the Air Force has elected to go with as wide open and transparent a selection process as possible. The pressure from congressional delegations will be intense. What choices are made will have to be defensible on their merits.
Other communities are as proud of their bases as Spokane is of Fairchild. But have they backed up that pride with efforts like Forward Fairchild, the joint military and civilian group that has never taken its eyes off the prize – the KC-46A?
As those leaders analyze the base criteria later this week, they and the community should take some satisfaction in the work already done. And, whatever the outcome, our support for Fairchild’s men and women must not flag.
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