TAMPA — A group of Tampa Bay political and business leaders held a news conference Monday to formally kick off a campaign to bring the next-generation of air-refueling tankers to MacDill Air Force Base.
U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Richard Nugent, R-Brooksville, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Al Higginbotham told reporters that MacDill was ideally suited to get the new refueling jets, the KC-46A, starting in 2017.
The base, they said, has all necessary infrastructure to handle the new planes.
The group, joined by representatives of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp., said winning the assignment of the planes to MacDill would make a generous economic impact to the region.
The Pentagon during the next two years will decide which Air Force bases will get the first deliveries of the KC-46A by the Boeing Co. A tentative selection of the first three bases may come by year's end. One of the first three bases will become home to 36 KC-46As.
On Wednesday, Castor, Buckhorn and other Tampa leaders will meet at the Pentagon with the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, Kathleen Ferguson.
"We've got to raise our profile in Washington and make our arguments to the Air Force and policy makers there," said Castor.
MacDill currently is home to 16 KC-135 refueling tankers, an Eisenhower-era jet nicknamed the stratotanker. The Air Force will gradually phase out its fleet of stratotankers over the next 20 years as the new planes roll off the assembly line. The aging stratotankers are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain.
Lawmakers have said winning the assignment of the new jets will help protect MacDill from closure as the size of the military contracts. But the military has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction at MacDill, and few inside the Air Force believe it would be targeted for closure.
U.S. Special Operations Command and Central Command, which spearheaded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are based at MacDill. In fact, CentCom recently moved into new $75 million headquarters on the base.