Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

MacDill getting eight more KC-135 tankers — maybe

TAMPA — The Air Force plans to slash its ranks, retire a big chunk of its aircraft fleet and trim billions of dollars from its budget in coming years.

Can there be any good news for MacDill Air Force Base amid such carnage?

Maybe.

The Air Force's long-range plans, recently unveiled in the proposed fiscal 2015 Pentagon budget, call for MacDill to add eight KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft to its fleet of 16 in 2018 along with nearly 300 additional personnel to tend them.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, hailed the news as "the first glimpse of success" for a bipartisan effort she led to expand MacDill's mission.

But should Tampa roll out the welcome wagon just yet?

What was not discussed by Castor and others celebrating the additional KC-135s is that the Air Force's announcement, if encouraging, includes a large degree of uncertainty.

"This is far from a done deal," said Todd Harrison, a senior fellow who specializes in defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, D.C. "It's something for the area to think positively about. It's good for them."

But Harrison said some skepticism is necessary given the realities of the federal budget.

The budget, he noted, is a political process in which members of Congress move to undo Air Force cuts on their own turf at the expense of other regions.

"You always have to be cognizant that any plan like this has a political dimension to it," Harrison said. "When you make tough decisions you are knowingly creating winners and losers. There are political implications to that. That's just the reality of democracy."

The Air Force is already taking political heat for its proposal to kill the A-10 "Warthog" fleet for a $3.5 billion savings over five years. If the fleet survives, the Air Force may have to look to cut something else, Harrison said.

The Air Force also may be forced to cut billions more starting in 2016 if automatic sequestration cuts are made.

The Pentagon's "five-year plans are $115 billion above these budget caps," Harrison said. "They are not actually planning for the full cuts that are current law."

Unless Congress reverses them, Harrison said, "Some of the KC-135s may be sacrificed."

Air Force leaders say they would have to retire an additional 80 aircraft from the nearly 500 it already plans to mothball in the next five years if Congress does not repeal sequestration.

But right now, the KC-135 seems well positioned even if those cuts come. Air Force leaders said they would first cut another tanker, the KC-10, rather than the KC-135s.

Leaders of Air Force bases are usually discouraged from talking about the budget process, and MacDill officials did not respond to a request for comment.

The Air Force also is cutting roughly 20,000 positions in fiscal 2015. But specific totals by base are not available.

An Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon acknowledged the service's plan could change and that it is too early to call the additional KC-135s for MacDill a certainty.

"We put forth our best plan," said spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. "A lot can happen between now and then. … We don't know what we don't know. Things can always change."

The Air Force wants to phase out the Eisenhower-era KC-135s over the next two to three decades, replacing them with a the KC-46 tanker, which Boeing is producing.

Castor said the eight additional KC-135s slated for MacDill would come from McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, which is slated to get the first deliveries of new tankers.

The Air Force could not confirm this, though a spokeswoman said it was likely MacDill would get aircraft replaced by the KC-46.

Castor said that puts MacDill in a better position politically as Kansas officials are not actually losing aircraft and therefore will not be lobbying the Pentagon to keep its KC-135s.

"There would be a concern if McConnell were losing aircraft and shutting down," Castor said.

Boeing expects to deliver the first 18 KC-46s by 2017. The Air Force budget says it is transferring 28 KC-135s to four bases by 2018, including the eight to MacDill.

One potential complication could also arise if the KC-46 program is delayed. Boeing said it is on schedule. But the Pentagon reported in January the program is six months to a year behind schedule.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III told Congress on Wednesday that there are no more easy cuts remaining in his budget.

"We built this budget to ensure that Air Force combat power remains unequaled," he said. "But that does not mean it will remain unaffected."

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com.

MacDill getting eight more KC-135 tankers — maybe 03/29/14 [Last modified: Sunday, March 30, 2014 12:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. HomeTeam 100: Players 31-40

    Footballpreps

    Wesley Chapel High School running back Dexter Leverett (6) runs the ball past Hudson High School offensive linebacker Cody Sutphin (8) during the second half at Wesley Chapel High School in Wesley Chapel, Fla., on Oct. 8, 2016. Wesley Chapel won the game 39 to 34
  2. 'I called for help, not for them to kill him.' Dead man's mother says Pasco deputies mishandled shooting

    Crime

    CRYSTAL SPRINGS — The mother of a man shot to death by deputies believes authorities were too quick to fire their weapons and used unnecessary force in dealing with her son.

    Steve Steele, 47, was shot by Pasco deputies on Thursday, July 13 [Photo Courtesy of Trish Manson]
  3. New Florida drivers licenses, ID cards coming in August

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE – A new look is coming to Florida licenses and ID cards.

    Starting in August, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles will begin to issue the new Florida driver license and ID card. [Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles]
  4. 21 fun places to escape the heat and chill indoors in Tampa Bay

    Events

    A simple walk down the street this summer can feel like it takes years. With the humidity and the Florida sun blazing, no amount of time feels like enough to cool off in summer. To help you regulate, our critics and writers came up with a few places that encourage lingering for just ... a few ... more ... minutes.

  5. Alligator bites man several times at Florida retention pond (w/video)

    Wildlife

    PORT CHARLOTTE — A homeless man was injured after he was bitten several times by a 9-foot alligator at a retention pond Monday morning, authorities said.