01/10/13 — SJAFB off first list for tankers

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SJAFB off first list for tankers

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 10, 2013 1:46 PM

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Photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

The KC-46A is intended to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. It was announced Wednesday that Seymour Johnson Air Force Base will not be among the first installations to receive the aircraft.

They still believe that, eventually, Seymour Johnson Air Force will host a fleet of KC-46As -- that 916th Air Refueling Wing crews are "well-positioned" to command the state-of-the-art tankers that will enhance refueling capacity and capabilities, improve efficiency and increase capabilities for cargo and aeromedical evacuation.

But an announcement made late Wednesday confirmed that should the Goldsboro installation receive the aircraft that will ultimately replace the Air Force's aging KC-135R Stratotankers, it won't be any time soon.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III disclosed the candidate bases for the KC-46A formal training unit -- Altus Air Force Base, Okla., and McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. -- and the first active-duty led main operating bases -- Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., Grand Forks Air Force Base, N.D., Altus and McConnell -- Wednesday.

But the 179 planned KC-46A aircraft represent just the first of a three-phase effort he said would see more than 400 KC-135 and 59 KC-10 aircraft replaced.

So local officials remain optimistic that, by the end of the decade, Seymour Johnson will get its share.

"I think Seymour is still positioned well to be a future host of the KC-46," said Maj. Shannon Mann, 916th ARW Public Affairs chief. "I mean, we can't predict the future. We can't say exactly what the Air Force and DOD are going to do. But we have done everything on our part to highlight our success and to show them that we are a wing that can take this technology into the future."

The wing has many reasons to be confident.

In "USAF Force Structure Changes: Sustaining Readiness and Modernizing the Total Force," a report published in February 2012 by top Air Force brass, officials said they intended to "establish Active or Classic Associations at all continental U.S. KC- 46 locations" -- an Active Association already exists at Seymour Johnson.

And the base's proximity to Camp Lejeune and Fort Bragg is also "a plus," officials said.

But its location offers far more than access to the other installations.

The fact that it near the eastern seaboard postures its fleet well for deployment scenarios.

Then factor in the 916th's track record -- being the first KC-135 unit called upon to refuel aircraft over Libya during Operation Odyssey Dawn and the first to refuel the F-35 and F-22 -- and Seymour Johnson's case grows stronger.

"With all that, I think the 916th stands a good chance," Mann said. "I really do."