Fairchild won’t get next round of new tankers

January 12, 2017 GMT

This story is developing and will be updated.

Fairchild apparently will not become the second Air Force base to get the new KC-46A tankers.

The next wing of the new Pegasus tanker will go to Joint Base Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey,

“Great news for #NJ! We won the battle & @jointbasemdl will host next gen KC-46 air refuel tankers,” Sen. Bob Mendendez, D.N.J., wrote in a tweet Thursday morning after Air Force officials notified congressional leaders that facility is their top choice for the second active duty wing of the new tankers.

It will receive 24 of the new refueling jets, which are expected to be available sometime after 2020. Travis Air Force in California will also get 24 KC-46As.

Washington congressional leaders blasted the Air Force process that leaves Fairchild with tankers built in the 1950s and 1960s for the foreseeable future. It is the second time the West Planes base has been a finalist for a KC-46A operating base, but lost out to another facility.

The New Jersey base reported got a higher score than Fairchild in the Air Force’s assessment of the five facilities it was studying for the next operating base. According to some reports, Travis scored lower than Fairchild, but was also selected for a KC-46A base.

A final decision will come later this year.

The Air Force will be in Spokane this evening for an Environmental Impact Statement scoping session, but sources said that would only help Fairchild’s chances if the EIS process for all the bases under consideration turns up something that makes the Pentagon change its mind about Maguire-Dix-Lakehurst.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who had pushed unsuccessfully for Fairchild to be the first home for the new plane, and then to be the second main operating base, blasted the decision.

“As I’ve said repeatedly, if the Air Force is truly committed to its plan to buy the full number of tankers, rebalance to Asia, and support operations around the world, Fairchild Air Force Base is the absolute best location (for the new base),” she said in a statement released by her staff. “I’m outraged at the manner in which this process was run and I do not consider this case closed. I will pursue all avenues to ensure the Air Force explains every turn that led us to this decision.”

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the Republican whose Eastern Washington district includes Spokane and Fairchild, also cast doubt on the Air Force’s process for selecting the next bases for the new tankers.

“I am disappointed that Fairchild was not selected to receive these new tankers, and I continue to have questions about whether changes to the basing process unfairly disadvantaged Fairchild,” she said.

But the failure to be selected as a top choice for the new KC-46A does not jeopardize Fairchild’s future, McMorris Rodgers said.

“I’ve met personally with numerous Air Force leaders and they have assured me that Fairchild is positioned to be a preeminent aerial refueling tanker base well into the future because of its strategic location, infrastructure and capacity, strong community support, and years of mission experience,” she said in a statement released Thursday morning. “I am going to hold them to their word and ensure that Fairchild retains and expands its critical role in assuring the Air Force’s global mobility and reach. I remain confident and excited about Fairchild’s future and will continue to work with our community partners and the entire Washington congressional delegation to expand Fairchild’s missions, operations, and strategic importance for decades to come.”