OUR OPINION: On a tanker mission for GFAFB: Try, try again
When Grand Forks Air Force Base won a new "unmanned aerial vehicles" mission in 2005, local officials got to work. And before you could say "unmanned aircraft systems" (one of the next evolutions of the term), UND had an academic major in the fie...
When Grand Forks Air Force Base won a new "unmanned aerial vehicles" mission in 2005, local officials got to work. And before you could say "unmanned aircraft systems" (one of the next evolutions of the term), UND had an academic major in the field, Northland community college had a mechanics' program, the Border Patrol stationed its unmanned aircraft for the northern border here -- and Grand Forks found itself perfectly positioned to host a new, dynamic and growing industry.
This happened because local leaders zeroed in on the field, hardened weaknesses and turned minor assets into major strengths.
Now, Grand Forks needs that can-do attitude again, this time to be the next base on the list to gain an Air Force tanker mission.
McConnell, Pease and Altus Air Force bases won the first round. But Grand Forks was a solid contender; and now, local officials now should regroup and resolve to make an even stronger case the next time a basing decision comes around.
Granted, it's hard to know exactly when that will be. Sequestration has the Pentagon running scared. The services are seeing big budget cuts down the road and wondering how on Earth they'll cope.
But tanker aircraft are the Armed Forces' workhorses, and even a military somewhat reduced in size is sure to require many dozens of them. Couple that with the fact that the existing KC-135s are aging out of service, and you've got the strong likelihood that the KC-46A replacement tanker program will be a funding priority for years to come.
That's where Grand Forks Air Force Base can come in. McConnell Air Force Base may be the "preferred alternative" for the first active-duty-led KC-46A main operating base, but Grand Forks and Fairchild Air Force Bases are the "reasonable alternatives."
That gives Grand Forks a huge leg up when it's time to make the next basing call.
What were the base's strengths in this round? What were its weaknesses? What roles can civic involvement, the North Dakota congressional delegation and networking with Air Force and Pentagon brass play?
Those are the kinds of questions local and state leaders should ask. Then, the answers should guide Grand Forks' strategy going forward, as it preps for the inevitable announcement that the Air Force is beginning its second round.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald