Sunday, May 20, 2018
Military News

MacDill won't get new refueling tanker planes

TAMPA

The Pentagon announced Wednesday that MacDill Air Force Base is no longer in the running to win the first of the Air Force's next-generation air refueling aircraft the Boeing Co. will begin delivering by 2017.

The decision is a blow to Tampa Bay and the bipartisan political effort to persuade the Air Force to assign the new tankers to MacDill. It guarantees MacDill's aging fleet of 16 KC-135 refuelers will remain a fixture in the skies around Tampa for decades to come.

"I am not real happy," said U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, who was informed of the decision by Gen. Mark Welsh III, the Air Force chief of staff. "I was rather curt with him and expressed my disappointment and unhappiness."

The Air Force will gradually phase in the new tanker, called the KC-46, during the next two decades with plans calling for 179 of the new aircraft — costing $35 billion — to replace part of the Air Force's fleet of more than 400 KC-135s.

MacDill is unlikely to get any of those 179 aircraft, according to Air Force documents released Wednesday. If MacDill gets any new planes at all, the documents indicate, it will be after 2028 when the Air Force tentatively plans to launch a competition to design and build two additional models, now called KC-y and KC-z.

But late Wednesday, there was some confusion among political and Air Force officials about whether MacDill is absolutely prohibited from getting any future KC-46s at all because it lost this first round of assignments. The Air Force is always free to change its selection criteria.

"Politics has been known to interfere with basing decisions on aircraft," said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace industry analyst.

Young said Air Force officials had led him to believe in recent years that MacDill would be among the bases to win the KC-46. The Air Force said 54 bases were under consideration.

"My comment to (Welsh) was that I had been led down the primrose path for years," Young said.

The Air Force released a list of finalists Wednesday for the first three bases competing to get the KC-46. Of those, one will be an active Air Force base that will get 36 new tankers. A second will be a training center and the third will be an Air National Guard base.

MacDill was vying only for the active Air Force base slot because it has no Air National Guard or training facilities.

MacDill lost out to Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Fair­child Air Force Base in Washington state, Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota and McCon­nell Air Force Base in Kansas. Final selection comes in the spring.

All these bases have larger fleets of KC-135s than MacDill.

"If you did the odds on it, it was a very, very tough competition," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

MacDill is in no immediate danger of losing its KC-135s — four-engine Eisenhower-era tankers with the nickname "stratotanker." The Air Force said it is committed to supporting the KC-135s for many years.

"I want to stress that the KC-135 units not replaced with the KC-46 will continue to fly . . . for the foreseeable future," Welsh said in a written statement.

Young said the general told him "MacDill will have tankers for the rest of our lives and the lives of our children."

Col. Scott DeThomas, commander of MacDill's 6th Air Mobility Wing, said the KC-135 will remain part of the Air Force arsenal for at least 25 years.

"MacDill's tankers, the KC-135s, will continue to be the mainstay of Air Force refueling," he said.

The KC-46 is among the Air Force's top procurement priorities because of the increasing cost of maintaining the KC-135s. But the competition to design and build the tankers between Boeing and Northrop Grumman was star-crossed for years with ethics scandals, delays and bare-knuckled politics. Boeing finally won out.

Pilots of the KC-135s tend to have a real affection for the aircraft. While the planes are among the oldest in the Air Force fleet, they are not viewed as a flight safety concern.

Engines and avionics are constantly upgraded. In fact, with the pace of operations to refuel aircraft in the Middle East, the KC-135 flies far more today than it did during the Cold War.

"It's like an old car," Senior Airman Luke Johnson, an aircraft mechanic, told the Times in 2008. "Change the tires. Check the oil. Take care of it and it lasts forever."

Tampa Bay political leaders met with Air Force officials last year to argue that MacDill deserved the new tankers.

The Air Force said it considered a long list of criteria in selecting the finalists, from fuel storage capacity to communications infrastructure. The Air Force did not say what tipped the balance against MacDill.

"We knew we had tough competition," said U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa. "Fortunately, the Air Force is committed to the current . . . tanker mission at MacDill."

Political leaders said losing the KC-46 does not threaten MacDill's existence as has been suggested by some, including Castor's opponent in the 2012 election. The Pentagon spent hundreds of millions upgrading the base recently, and MacDill is home to the nation's top two combat commands, U.S. Special Operations Command and Central Command.

MacDill "is a viable base. It's a needed base,'' Buckhorn said. ". . . Obviously, you like to win every time, but we recognize that doesn't always happen."

Times staff writer Richard Danielson and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. William R. Levesque can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3432.

Comments
Trump announces he will nominate acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to become department’s permanent leader

Trump announces he will nominate acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to become department’s permanent leader

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Friday that he plans to nominate Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie to become the department’s permanent leader, noting that the decision may come as a surprise to Wilkie."I’ll ...
Published: 05/18/18
McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

TAMPA— All current and former military service members in central Florida can stop by their local McDonald’s and grab a free burger today.In celebration of Military Appreciation Month, McDonald’s is giving away a "Taste of Thanks." All veterans and c...
Published: 05/17/18
Howard Altman: MacDill chosen to sell new Army-like Air Force uniforms

Howard Altman: MacDill chosen to sell new Army-like Air Force uniforms

Home to headquarters including U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base is at the forefront of a lot of important military action.Now it is taking on a new role — as a prime Air Force clothier.The flying branch...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
MacDill reviewing transportation plans after crowds jam roads for AirFest 2018

MacDill reviewing transportation plans after crowds jam roads for AirFest 2018

TAMPA — Tampa Bay AirFest 2018 pulled in a whopping 150,000 people and more over three days last week, including practice on Friday.But that proved to be more people than the transportation plan could handle, delaying arrival by hours for some and pr...
Published: 05/17/18
Vital military training falls short, New Port Richey veteran says: How to re-enter civilian life

Vital military training falls short, New Port Richey veteran says: How to re-enter civilian life

When Green Beret Brian Anderson got ready to leave the Army in 2011, after eight years fighting in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, he followed the path taken by tens of thousands of service members each year.Anderson, now 36 and living in New Port ...
Published: 05/14/18
Clouds can’t dampen crowd’s enthusiasm at packed MacDill Airfest

Clouds can’t dampen crowd’s enthusiasm at packed MacDill Airfest

TAMPA — With his 4-year-old son Tyler on his shoulders, Ryan Wick watched the Navy’s Blue Angels aerial demonstration team scream over the MacDill Air Force Base flight line at about 400 miles an hour.An hour or so earlier, the two struck a similar p...
Published: 05/12/18
US jets intercept pair of Russian bombers off Alaskan coast

US jets intercept pair of Russian bombers off Alaskan coast

Two Russian long-range bombers were intercepted off the coast of Alaska by a pair of F-22 Raptor fighter jets on Friday, the military said.The Tu-95 bombers were flying in the Air Defense Identification Zone in the Bering Sea north of the Aleutian Is...
Published: 05/12/18
Agencies are told to step up use of special powers to hire military spouses

Agencies are told to step up use of special powers to hire military spouses

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump has issued an order aimed at boosting hiring by federal agencies of spouses of military personnel, who often face career difficulties as a result of being relocated frequently.Military service "often impairs the sp...
Published: 05/12/18
WWII planes, their wings overlapping, take to the air at MacDill festival this weekend

WWII planes, their wings overlapping, take to the air at MacDill festival this weekend

TAMPA — As a formation of World War II trainers cruised 1,000 feet over Tampa Bay, a 60-year-pilot flew one of the single-engine propeller planes so close to another that their wings overlapped by three feet.The tight maneuver is old hat to Steve Sal...
Published: 05/10/18
Updated: 05/11/18
Watch: Times photographer takes a wild ride in MacDill Airfest plane

Watch: Times photographer takes a wild ride in MacDill Airfest plane

RIVERVIEW — Tampa Bay Times photographer Luis Santana helped take the controls of an Extra 300L aircraft that will be part of this weekend’s Tampa Bay AirFest 2018 at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. With Santana on board, pilot John Kla...
Published: 05/10/18