Burlington County Times - Air Force finalizes decision to place new KC-46 tankers at joint base
By David Levinsky
The future of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst got another boost this week, as the U.S. Air Force finalized its decision to base two dozen of its next generation KC-46 refueling tankers at the base starting in 2020.
U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, and Reps. Chris Smith, Tom MacArthur and Donald Norcross, applauded the good news, saying the new jets would help ensure the long-term viability of the installation for decades to come.
"The joint base has cleared a major hurdle for the much-anticipated arrival of the KC-46A tankers," said Smith, R-4th of Hamilton, who is the dean of the state's congressional delegation and a longtime advocate for the base, which spans parts of both Burlington and Ocean counties.
The decision by Air Force leadership was not unexpected. Back in January the service announced that both the joint base and Travis Air Force Base in California had been selected as the preferred destinations for the next batch of the new tanker jets, which are being built by Boeing to replace the Air Force's existing fleets of older KC-135 and KC-10 tanker jets.
While their selection was considered a major development, it could not be finalized until after an environmental impact study was completed. The study was undertaken in 2017 and revealed no significant negative impact from the jets, according to the lawmakers.
Smith described the jets as the "quietest tankers ever made" and said they are cleaner and burn less fuel than the 32 larger KC-10s that are currently stationed at the joint base.
The base's selection to receive the new tankers was considered a major victory for the base and the state, as it essentially assures that the air mobility mission at the base will continue for the foreseeable future.
More than $146 million in construction projects at the base related to the new tankers has already been awarded and another $10.2 million in construction is expected at the base in the upcoming fiscal year, officials said.
Menendez said years of advocating by the entire state congressional district was rewarded.
"JBMDL, the nation's only tri-service base, and the second largest employer in New Jersey, plays an enormous role in our regional and national security, and our economy. The permanent placement of these aircraft will not only continue to support 42,000 military and civilian jobs, it underscores the importance of JBMDL to the country's national security as a premier power projection platform," he said.
MacArthur, R-3rd of Toms River, said the Air Force's decision would protect thousands of jobs and ensure that the base remains the nation's "premier air mobility installation."
"(The) 42,000 New Jersey residents employed at the base and the tens of thousands who depend on its survival can rest assured that JBMDL will continue to be of vital importance to our national security and air power," MacArthur said. "Since day one in Washington, now nearly four years ago, I've worked with the Department of Defense, secretaries of the Air Force, local and state officials, and my New Jersey colleagues to get this done. I look forward to welcoming these tankers to their new home in South Jersey."
"These refueling tankers will bring new jobs to New Jersey and make our base an indispensable starting point for national security missions on the East Coast," Norcross, D-1st of Camden, added. "I've long been fighting to bring these tankers to South Jersey because the mission is crucial to both national security and the livelihood of the over 42,000 New Jerseyans who are employed at the base, as well as the local communities that will benefit once the tankers are located at the joint base."
The first batch of 18 KC-46 tankers are due to be delivered to the Air Force by Boeing next month and are due to go to bases in Kansas, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and North Carolina. Those installations were picked by the Air Force during the first round of selections back in 2014.
The joint base will receive the second batch of the new planes, starting in late 2020 when the first of the new jets is expected to be delivered and ending in 2023. Travis is expected to begin receiving its first new planes in 2024.
The House is expected to vote on a military appropriations bill this week that includes about $2.3 billion for the purchase of 15 more KC-46s. Lawmakers have said securing that funding helps ensure that the Air Force's procurement of the new tankers remains on schedule and the new planes arrive in New Jersey on time.