Selfridge to get new state-of-the-art refueling tankers, ensuring base's future

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U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., told the Free Press on Thursday that Selfridge Air National Guard Base will be home to a new squadron of 12 KC-46A refueling tanker aircraft, per a conversation with Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

The announcement, Peters said, ensures that Selfridge, based in Harrison Township in Macomb County, will continued to have a flying mission even as the Air Force phases out the current eight KC-135 tankers at the base.

"This is very good news," said Peters, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who spoke with Kendall along with other members of the state's congressional delegation on Thursday morning. "The KC-46 is a state-of-the-art aircraft. ... It is more advanced than the KC-135 and is likely to be in service for the next 50 years."

Peters also said there will be more personnel associated with the new squadron since there are more aircraft involved but he couldn't say what the difference would be precisely. He also said he expects the new aircraft to begin being deployed at Selfridge later this decade, possibly in 2028.

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Caledonia, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, said he expects the new tanker mission to account for more than 1,000 military personnel to the base, which currently has about 1,400 Michigan Air National Guard personnel attached to it, some 1,000 of whom are full-time.

"Operating these tankers out of Selfridge will ensure the base — and Michigan — remain essential to U.S. military strategy while supporting local jobs and our state’s robust defense sector," Moolenaar said.

Macomb County Public Works Director Candice Miller, a former congresswoman and an honorary commander at Selfridge, praised the announcement and said the new squadron will benefit greatly from a new $40 million fuel storage facility at the base.

“It’s time to turn our attention to support U.S. Sen. Gary Peters in his effort to make Selfridge a northern border homeland security hub,” said Miller, who chaired the House Homeland Security Committee. “If Michigan’s delegation is successful in that, it will bring more personnel — and possibly more air assets, water assets and certainly more research and development and intelligence capabilities — to Selfridge to protect our nation."

State Sen. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, who serves as chairman of he Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military, Veterans and State Police, also called the announcement "truly a win for the state of Michigan."

Meanwhile, Peters and the rest of the delegation will continue to press the Air Force to base a new fighter mission at Selfridge as well, with the Air Force still phasing out the A-10 Warthogs based there.

"We’re also fighting to get a new fighter mission. That’s still going on," Peters told the Free Press, adding that he got Kendall's commitment that the announcement of the new refueling tankers "doesn't remove us from consideration for a manned fighter mission."

Peters, who is also a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, and the rest of Michigan's congressional delegation had been pushing Kendall and the Air Force to put one of two available new refueling tanker squadrons at Selfridge.

A letter to the Air Force sent recently signed by Peters and others, including Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, argued that Selfridge was the "ideal" location for the new refueling squadron as well as for a new fighter aircraft to replace the A-10s being phased out.

The base is home to the 171st Air Refueling Squadron, which operates the KC-135 tankers and is part of the 127th Wing located there.

The Air Force has been using KC-135 Stratotankers since the 1950s. The new KC-46A Pegasus tanker, also made by Boeing, has greater refueling capability and space for cargo and aeromedical evacuation than the KC-135 and can take off at gross weights of up to 415,000 pounds, compared with 322,500 for the earlier aircraft.

Contact Todd Spangler: Follow him on Twitter @tsspangler.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Selfridge to get new squadron of refueling tankers