Grissom competes for Air Force's newest refueling tankers

·3 min read

May 31—BUNKER HILL — Indiana's congressional delegation on Thursday sent a letter to the Secretary of the Air Force urging him to consider Grissom Air Reserve Base for a fleet of the nation's newest refueling planes.

The letter came after the Air Force briefed elected officials on May 14 that Grissom was one of six reserve bases being considered for a fleet of a dozen KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling and transport aircraft.

The new planes are larger, more efficient and carry more fuel, and would replace the older KC-135 Stratotankers. The new aircraft would also bring a total of 190 new jobs to the base, including an associate squadron of around 175 active-duty airmen.

If Grissom is selected for the aircraft, it would bring the first active-duty Air Force unit to the installation since it realigned as a reserve base in 1994.

In the letter, the delegation, which is made up of seven U.S. representatives and both senators, made the case for bringing the 12 KC-46As to Grissom.

They said the base is in proximity to refueling tracks and airspace availability, which boosts mission effectiveness. The letter says Grissom also has ample capacity to support additional aircraft, including hangars, its runway, and ramps, and is located in a low-cost area with minimal environmental concerns.

"What sets Grissom apart is its impressive history of operations and maintenance excellence, which allows it to excel in its strategic mission," the letter says. "... Grissom boasts one of the highest mission completion rates in the country.

Jim Tidd, executive director of the Miami County Economic Development Authority, said Grissom competed for the new aircraft three years ago during the first rounds of site selections, and the base came in second place. Now, he's hoping to land the planes and squadron this time around.

"It's going to be a highly competitive process, so even though we came in second last time, we're not just sitting back and thinking it's a given, because it's allowed other communities three years to make them more competitive," Tidd said. "We've got to work harder, and maybe even harder, than we did in the first round."

That includes compiling extensive data on the surrounding communities to show how they could support and promote the squadron, as well as getting local and state government units to pass resolutions in support of Grissom.

Tidd said his organization has brought on a professional consulting firm to help in its campaign, which also includes working with the areas chambers of commerce.

He said the base must file its report to the Air Force by July 25. The Air Force will announce which base gets the planes sometime at the end of September.

Tidd said beyond the economic boost the aircraft and the 190 new workers would bring, winning the unit would also show the Department of Defense that Grissom is a base worth investing in.

"This would help secure Grissom's status as a base for a lot of years to come," he said.

The five other reserve bases vying for the new tankers are Beale AFB and March Air Reserve Base, California; Niagara Falls ARB, New York; Tinker AFB, Oklahoma; and Joint Base Andrews, Maryland.

The Air Force said site surveys at each candidate base will be conducted this summer and will be assessed against operational requirements, potential impacts to existing missions, housing, infrastructure and manpower.

U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski sent the letter to the Air Force Secretary, which was signed by U.S. Sens. Todd Young and Mike Braun; and U.S. Reps. Frank Mrvan; Jim Banks; Jim Baird; Victoria Spartz; Greg Pence; André Carson; Larry Bucshon; and Trey Hollingsworth.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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