Tanker site selection team plans March visit to GFAFB
A site selection team for the U.S. Air Force will visit Grand Forks Air Force Base later this month to survey the base's potential as home to the next generation of refueling tankers, according to an announcement Wednesday by North Dakota's congr...
A site selection team for the U.S. Air Force will visit Grand Forks Air Force Base later this month to survey the base's potential as home to the next generation of refueling tankers, according to an announcement Wednesday by North Dakota's congressional delegation.
The news came just one day after Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, met with Grand Forks Air Force Base personnel and civilian leaders.
"Several folks have asked if the chief of staff of the Air Force's visit means that Grand Forks will get the new KC-X tanker," said Col. Diane Hull, 319th Air Refueling Wing commander. "We know now what we knew 24 hours ago: Grand Forks is one of a handful of bases that the Air Force is considering for the KC-X."
The KC-X tanker is the Air Force's new generation of air refueling tankers, slated to replace the current aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers. The new planes should be ready by 2011. The Air Force just needs to decide where the new planes will call home.
After a full day of face-to-face time with the highest-ranking officer in the Air Force, Moseley's support of Grand Forks was clear. He said the base would be seriously considered as a top candidate for a future tanker mission, which was confirmed Wednesday morning by another four-star general.
Gen. Duncan McNabb, commander of the Air Mobility Command, called the congressional delegation Wednesday morning to say he would send a five-person team to Grand Forks Air Force Base on March 26-30.
"That's exceptionally good news," said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., the founder of the Senate Tanker Caucus. "That's the next step in getting Grand Forks approved to be the home of the new tanker."
The team will inspect the base's facilities and infrastructure to determine what, if any, improvements would have to be made to house the new tankers.
"We think it's a very positive sign," said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. "We've been talking with the Air Force for some time in basing some number of the new tankers in Grand Forks. Essentially, they needed to make an evaluation to see if that's what they wanted to do and if it would be conflicting with BRAC. The upcoming site visit means it's not prohibited, and they like Grand Forks."
The Pentagon decided two years ago that the Grand Forks base would be "realigned," losing its fleet of 50 KC-135 tankers within the next five years. In exchange, the Pentagon plans to assign the base squadron a few of the new Unmanned Aerial Surveillance vehicles.
The congressional delegation has been pushing to add the new tankers to the UAV mission to increase the number of base personnel in Grand Forks. Even though the tankers don't exist yet, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., who worked closely with Moseley and McNabb as part of his position on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said there's still reason for excitement. "The tankers are going to exist fairly soon. We'll have the new tankers coming into inventory in the next couple of years," Dorgan said. "The visit is an exciting announcement - it's not just a pipe dream - there's a good chance the new tankers could come to Grand Forks."
Although Washington officials are excited about the visit, Hull considers it business as usual.
"The upcoming site survey is simply a small team that's coming here on a fact-finding mission. We'll provide them with any information they ask for and be as supportive as we can be," Hull said.
Decker can be reached at (701) 787-6754, (800) 477-6572, ext. 754, or email@example.com .