Alaska's Senators Question Air Force Over New Aircraft
At left, KC-135 Stratotanker, courtesy U.S. Air Force
FAIRBANKS — The F-16 move is not the only Air Force policy that has Alaska’s senators on the defensive.
In addition to opposing the Air Force’s plans to move Eielson Air Force Bases’ F-16 fighter planes to Anchorage, U.S. Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski are second-guessing the way the military deploys a new aircraft, the KC-46A.
The KC-46A is a transport and aerial refueler designed to eventually replace the more than 50-year-old KC-135 Stratotanker model used by units including the Air National Guard’s 168th Air Refueling Wing based at Eielson.
Last month the Air Force announced the first 179 new planes will go to as many as 10 bases in the next 16 years.
But only two of the bases will be outside the continental United States. One of these locations will be a European base and one will be in the Pacific Theater, which includes Hawaii and Alaska.
Begich and Murkowski are both asking the Air Force to explain why they are putting KC-46As in only one Pacific base outside the contiguous U.S.
They say the decision is especially questionable given statements this year from President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about the strategic importance of the military in the Pacific.
Begich recently put language in the National Defense Authorization Act asking the Air Force to report to Congress about how the plans for the KC-46A were developed.
Murkowski wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force and the Air Force chief of staff May 24.
“With the proposed movement of the 18th Aggressor Squadron (F-16) from Eielson Air Force Base, the recent (2005) removal of A-10 aircraft from the state, and now the plan to distribute the KC-46A refuelers in a way that does anticipate an increase in missions to the Asia Pacific, the Air Force may be missing an opportunity to seize the initiative in the Asia Pacific theater,” Murkowski wrote.
The Air Force announced its plans for the KC-46A’s last month. The Air Force will announced the specific bases where the refuelers will be stationed in the coming years.
It will take several decades for the Air Force to replace the more than 400 KC-135s, and the planes that are not being replaced by KC-46As are not being retired in the foreseeable future, said Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek in the Pentagon.
Contact Fairbanks Daily News-Miner staff writer Sam Friedman at 907-459-7545.