Air Force officials announced April 23, that Altus Air Force Base, Okla., is the Air Force’s KC-46A Pegasus formal training unit and McConnell AFB, Kan., is the first active duty-led Pegasus main operating base.
“The KC-46A Pegasus aerial tanker remains one of our top three acquisition priorities,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James. “Making a final basing decision is an important step in recapitalizing the tanker fleet. We will begin to replace our aging tanker fleet in 2016, but even when the program is complete in 2028, we will have replaced less than half of the current tanker fleet and will still be flying over 200 half-century-old KC-135 (Stratotankers).”
Both Altus AFB and McConnell AFB were selected as preferred alternatives in May 2013. The Air Force recently completed the environmental analysis required by the National Environmental Protection Act to provide further information concerning the basing process.
Air Force officials analyzed operational considerations, installation attributes, economic and environmental factors for each location before making a final basing decision. They also explained their rationale for choosing Altus AFB and McConnell AFB.
"The Air Force chose these bases using operational analysis, results of site surveys and military judgment factors," said Timothy Bridges, the Air Force deputy assistant secretary for installations.
Altus was selected as the formal training unit for the KC-46A because it provides great training opportunities, Bridges said. There is significant benefit of collocating KC-46A trainers with both tanker and heavy receiver aircraft for training purposes.
The formal training unit and first main operating base will begin receiving aircraft in fiscal year 2016. A final basing decision for the first Air National Guard main operating base is expected in summer 2014, with the first aircraft scheduled to arrive in fiscal 2018.
Altus AFB also has better infrastructure capacity and requires considerably less new construction, Bridges added.
There is already a formal training wing located at Altus AFB; therefore, less active-duty manpower will be required to stand up the training operation.
“The Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are vital to accomplishing our air refueling mission,” Bridges explained. “Therefore, the Air Force will also build on the existing classic association with the Air Force Reserve.”
Officials said McConnell AFB was selected as the first main operating base for the KC-46A because it has the lowest military construction costs and is located in a region of high air refueling receiver demand. McConnell AFB already has 44 KC-135 refueling aircraft assigned. Replacing those aircraft with 36 KC-46A aircraft will require the lowest manpower adjustments of the candidate installations.
“Tankers are the lifeblood of our joint force’s ability to respond to crisis and contingencies,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III. “The Pegasus will be capable of day and night operations and enable a rapid, global capability that will support U.S., joint, allied and coalition forces. The aircraft will also underpin our humanitarian missions.”
Welsh also committed to ensuring continued support of combatant commander tanker requirements during a tanker recapitalization effort that will last decades by continuing to fully fund upgrades and improvements to the KC-135 fleet.
As the first KC-46As enter into service, older KC-135s will be retired or transferred.
With the selection of McConnell AFB, the special operations air refueling training mission will remain close to its primary customers in the Southeast. McConnell is also an ideal central location for the new KC-46A Regional Maintenance Training Center.
Subsequent KC-46A decisions will use similar criteria.
The KC-46A will provide improved capability, including boom and drogue refueling on the same sortie, world-wide navigation and communication and airlift capability on the entire main deck floor. It is also capable of receiver air refueling, improved force protection and survivability, and multi-point air refueling capability.