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Anyone holding out hope that the first cohort of new air-refueling tankers would be located at Fairchild Air Force Base can give it up. Pegasus won’t be landing on the West Plains any time soon.
The Air Force confirmed Wednesday the first new KC-46As will go into regular service at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas. McConnell was named the Air Force’s preferred choice for the first operational KC-46A tanker unit last May, with Fairchild as its backup.
But McConnell had to get through an environmental impact study with no unexpected barriers. On Wednesday the Pentagon said it completed studies for McConnell and Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, which will be the new training base. Both passed. . .
To read the rest of this item, or to comment, continue inside the blog.
Fairchild Air Force Base is one of several bases on a short list for receiving the nation's newest air refueling tanker.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) ― Federal officials say the air tanker base in Boise has so far dumped more than 1 million gallons of fire retardant on wildfires burning across Idaho this year. That surpasses totals recorded for the past 11 years dating to 2001 and the first eclipse of the 1-million gallon mark since 2007. This fire season, pilots have dumped 1.2 million gallons of the red retardant on wildfires, topping the previous record of 1.19 million gallons in 2006. Officials at the U.S. Forest Service Air Tanker Base say the annual average during the last 11 years is 611,000 gallons. Nearly a third of the 2011 dump has targeted fires on the Boise National Forest. More than 245,000 gallons were dropped on the initial attack on the Trinity Ridge Fire burning near Featherville.
The Air Force released the criteria today for deciding which of its bases will get the first new air refueling tankers, and Fairchild will be among about 60 bases being considered.
That means the Air Force won't limit those first KC-46As to a base that already serves as a current home for tankers, but will look at most facilities in the continental United States. The main criteria for making this first list for consideration?
“A runway,” a spokeswoman for the officer of the Secretary of the Air Force said after a short description of the criteria was released. That's essentially all bases with airplanes, although not every Air Force base has planes, Ann Stefanek said.
From that most basic of necessities for a jet patterned after the Boeing 767 commercial airliner, the Air Force will consider other important details, such as the capacity of the fueling system, available space on the runway, size of hangars, proximity to planes needing to be refueled, airspace availability, environmental considerations and costs.
The Air Force expects to have scores for all the potential bases sometime this summer, Stefanek said, and narrow the list further to a small group of top scorers from which the preferred site and reasonable alternatives will be chosen late this year.
The Air Force began briefing members of Congress and posted the criteria briefly on its website this afternoon. It later removed the criteria, even though it kept a link with a picture of a prototype of the new tanker refueling a cargo plane that promised information about the criteria.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, said she believes the criteria puts Fairchild Air Force Base in a ” very competitive position” to be an early home for the new planes, which will be built in Everett: “I'm confident that Fairchild's long tanker history, strong community support and joint operations between the Active Duty and Guard place it in an ideal position to succeed.”
The West Plains base has a new runway and a new wing headquarters under construction, Murray said in an e-mail. A letter from the state's congressional delegation to Air Force leaders on how the base stacks up to the criteria could be sent as soon as Tuesday.
To read the Air Force announcement of criteria for the first two new tanker bases, and the tanker “formal training unit, click here to go inside the blog.
This picture was taken at a base in Kansas.
With all the celebrating that has taken place since Boeing was declared the winner in the Air Force’s New Tanker Sweepstakes, it may be wise not to start adding all those jobs and money into the state’s moribund economy just yet. After all, the new tanker has the qualities of a reverse vampire – it is very hard to bring to life, and easy to kill.
The smart money, if there is such a thing in this long-running saga to replace the venerable KC-135, was actually on European Aerospace Defence and Space Inc. prior to the Pentagon’s announcement Thursday.
So worried were members of the Washington congressional delegation that at least one prepared a scathing response to an Airbus victory. A press release from Rep. Jay Inslee, whose district includes many once and future Boeing workers, hit e-mail inboxes just minutes after the announcement with a subject line of “Decision Will Not Stand”.
Whether Inslee was channeling Desert Storm-era George H.W. Bush or the Big Liebowski isn’t clear, for the text was appropriately celebratory of Boeing as “the best choice for the next gen tanker.” His staff apparently learned the dangers of something news outlets around the region were doing, preparing a story for each eventuality, and put the wrong headline on the right story.
But it brings to mind the fact that in 2008, the “smart money” was on Boeing winning the previous contract. When Washington’s favorite aerospace giant who has its headquarters elsewhere did not win, it appealed and won. EADS Airbus could do the same in the next week or so, and then where will we be?
About the same place we’ve been since the fall of 2001. . .
So this is how much clout the Washington congressional delegation has: A day after five House members join in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates to keep the schedule on track for building a new tanker to replace the KC-135, the Pentagon announces…
It will extend the deadline by 60 days so Airbus can submit a bid.
To be fair, the Pentagon gets so much mail that it’s possible Gates hadn’t even gotten around to reading the letter from Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Doc Hastings, Jay Inslee, Rick Larsen and others from around the country. Maybe if they’d have sent a singing telegram or something to stand out from the crowd and catch his attention. Maybe if they’d camped out in his office. Who knows.
IIt’s also possible that after nearly nine years and two high-profile failures in trying to find a suitable replacement for some of the KC-135 fleet, someone at the Pentagon decided “What’s another 60 days to see if we can finally get this right?”
In any event, the Air Force will wait an extra two months before closing off bids. Right now The Boeing Co. is the only one bidding on the contract, which could be worth as much as $40 billion. Airbus, which apparently has lost its U.S. partner Northrop Grumman, says with the extra time it can come up with a proposal to use a version of its A-330.
The Pentagon’s decision really torqued U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, who said the World Trade Organization just confirmed Airbus gets illegal subsidies to build its planes. For the full text of her press release, go inside the blog.
Air Force officials told a Senate subcommittee they still don’t like the idea of “splitting the baby” on the new refueling tanker.
That’s not a surprise, because the Pentagon has been saying to anyone who will listen that they want to have one version of the replacement for the aging KC-135s. They want to take bids from Boeing and Lockheed/Grumman/EADS and do a winner take all. Problem is, certain members of Congress, particularly the head of a House military appropriations committee, don’t much want to listen.
Sen. Patty Murray — who is a big supporter of Boeing (it’s a mutual kind of thing) — wants just one contract, and took a Capitol Hill visit by Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Norman Schwartz to get them to reiterate what they’ve been saying all along about a single contract.
They also got to repeat that they support a “fair and open” competition for the contract, which could be worth about $40 billion. This is hardly news, although it would be news if they would own up at some point to supporting a “rigged and secretive” competition, right?
So what about sending the new tankers — should they EVER get built — to Fairchild?
Answer inside the blog.
Sen. Patty Murray, who knows how to pick a friendly crowd, spent part of Tuesday talking about keeping defense jobs in the United States to the IAMAW.
That’s the International Association of Machiniest and Aircraft Workers, as in, the biggest union at Boeing.
Murray, who has led the fight to bring the Air Force’s contract for the next generation of aerial refueling tankers to Boeing’s 767 line, last week got a line added to legislation on reforming the military’s contracting process. It says the Pentagon has to tell Congress what the effect the cancelling of a contract will have on the nation’s industrial base.
Put another way, if the Pentagon wants to cancel a program, it will have to tell Congress what jobs will be cut, and in whose state and congressional district they’ll be cut.
On the tankers, Murray has been adamant that Congress consider what the job impacts will be of awarding the $35 billion contract to Boeing compared with a consortium that includes Northrop Grumman and the European maker of Airbus.
No surprise, she suggested machinist union members make clear to its congressional delegation they have similar concerns.
For the text of her remarks, check inside the blog…