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Send more tankers to Fairchild, Washington Congress members tell Air Force

UPDATED: Tue., March 14, 2017, 9:58 p.m.

FILE – A KC-135 refueling tanker makes a low pass over downtown Spokane Saturday, May 16, 2009 at the kickoff of the 2009 Armed Forces Torchlight Parade. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
FILE – A KC-135 refueling tanker makes a low pass over downtown Spokane Saturday, May 16, 2009 at the kickoff of the 2009 Armed Forces Torchlight Parade. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

After losing the competition for new tankers, Fairchild Air Force Base should win any competition for the old tankers leaving the first regular home of the KC-46A, members of the state’s congressional delegation said Tuesday.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell are sending a letter to Acting Air Force Secretary Lisa Disbrow, suggesting the dozen KC-135s that will leave McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas be reassigned to the base outside Spokane.

“Fairchild is the clear choice to receive these aerial refueling tankers because it meets and exceeds the basing criteria identified by the Air Force in its Feb. 8, 2016 announcement about the reassignment,” they wrote.

McMorris Rodgers, Murray and Cantwell made many of the same points they made in previous pitches for the Air Force to send the new tankers to Fairchild: It’s strategically located for military operations in Asia and the Pacific; it’s close to aerial refueling routes; it has the infrastructure to support more planes and the added personnel that would come with them. The Air Force also has spent about $400 million in recent years on construction at the base on projects such as a runway replacement, a new wing headquarters, a new fitness center and a new dorm at the Survival School. So sending those 12 tankers would be both efficient and cost effective, they argue.

All of that, plus strong community support for the base and the fact that Fairchild has a long-standing association between the active duty 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the Washington Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing, make it “the ideal candidate,” they argue.

Fairchild was a finalist to be the first Main Operating Base for the new KC-46A Pegasus. When McConnell was named the preferred alternative for that assignment, it was named the primary backup if anything turned up in the final studies to knock the Kansas base out of the running.

That didn’t happen, and McConnell is on its way to converting over to the new tankers. When the Air Force began looking for the next two Main Operating Bases for the Pegasus, state and local officials and business leaders thought Fairchild would be the prime candidate. Instead, early this year the Air Force chose bases in California and New Jersey which are homes to the KC-10 tankers the Pentagon hopes to retire.

When those new base selections were announced, however, the Air Force indicated that the number of KC-135 tankers at Fairchild could grow with the shifting of planes from other bases.


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