Thank you Tampa Bay for an incredible 2012! The men and women who serve our nation and call MacDill Air Force Base home sincerely appreciate all that you do for us. For the almost 15,000 active duty, Reserve, National Guard, civilian and contractor personnel who work on MacDill Air Force Base, our 27,000 dependents, and our 46,000 incredible retirees who live nearby, it is truly an amazing community, and we are extremely grateful.
I know your enthusiasm for all things MacDill left many of you disappointed when the Air Force recently announced its initial round of KC-46A candidate bases leading up to the fielding of the first 48 new KC-46A aircraft in 2017. True, MacDill is not on the initial list of candidate bases, but our vital mission for America continues. The Air Force is planning to invest more than $1 billion in our nation's KC-135 fleet to keep them viable until 2040. These iconic aircraft will be cutting gracefully across the skies of the Tampa Bay area for several more decades to come.
Meanwhile, it is important to understand the full impact of the Air Force's plans to update its fleet of air-refueling tanker aircraft. Most of the current fleet of more than 400 aging KC-135s were produced in the early 1960s. The Air Force's KC-46A contract is designed to replace 179 KC-135 aircraft over the next 15 years with the expected fielding of the last KC-46A in 2028. At completion, the Air Force will have a mix of active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve Command bases hosting the KC-46A.
The first list of candidate bases is just that — an initial list, designed to identify the first main operating base, the first training base and the first Air National Guard or Air Reserve base. The Air Force's decision on the location of the first KC-46As resulted from assessments that reviewed facilities, missions flown and contributions to the many demands of our air refueling enterprise. The scoring identified the top candidates for the first three bases and initiated the next review phase, which is designed to survey those candidates in depth.
Based on the planned delivery of the first KC-46A in 2017, it should take another three to five years until the first three bases begin KC-46A flying operations. By then, we can expect another round of scoring to determine the next list of candidate bases.
Our nation is dependent on its precious air refueling assets. They are the foundation of our Air Force's global reach and global strike missions and have been important ingredients in the makeup of our Air Force since its inception in 1947. Every time you see one of your KC-135s working overhead here in Tampa, I hope you take great pride that your Air Force is busy maintaining the necessary advantage that enables our country's military achievements around the world.
The budget challenges and impending fiscal decisions will make it more difficult to execute this essential mission, so we are very busy working to find viable solutions to the challenges that lie ahead. Our team knows the importance of maintaining our relationship with the people of this great community while ensuring our efforts meet the financial intent of our nation's leaders.
In January, we took the necessary steps to help slow spending and reduce financial risk in our yearly budget by curtailing travel costs, delaying some routine maintenance costs and reducing civilian employees slightly. Decisions that impact the livelihood of our personnel are not made lightly. We will take every step to help the small number of our employees affected by the reduction and ask you to consider these fine personnel in your hiring plans in 2013.
Finally, MacDill's success is greatly enabled by the entire Tampa Bay community. Each of you provides the secure neighborhoods, outstanding education systems and comforting sense of belonging that our members depend on each and every day. Often overlooked, the enabling effect of your support sets the conditions for the men and women who achieve Team MacDill's success and create a world-class installation that is second to none.
On behalf of all MacDill men and women, thank you for your incredible support and for making Tampa Bay a remarkable military community.
Col. Scott V. DeThomas is commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.