Air Force, defense officials to visit McConnell as part of tanker decision

Air Force and Department of Defense officials will begin a fact-checking trip Thursday at McConnell Air Force Base as part of the final selection of which bases will receive the new tankers.

McConnell is on the short list for two of three categories of bases to get the new KC-46 tankers, starting in 2016. One base from each grouping is expected to be named in late spring or early summer.

McConnell is among four finalists to receive 36 new tankers as the main active-duty operating base, joining Altus, Okla.; Grand Forks, N.D.; and Fairchild in Spokane, Wash. McConnell and Altus are the only two being considered to receive eight tankers as a training base.

Topeka’s Forbes Field is one of five finalists in the third category — an operating base led by an Air National Guard unit.

About 40 fact checkers will be split between two teams and make separate stops at McConnell, starting Thursday and finishing up Feb. 15. One team will consider McConnell as an operating base and the other as a training base.

The officials will go to McConnell and other bases get a first-hand look at the infrastructure.

McConnell is the world’s largest tanker base with 63 KC-135s, which have been used to do air-refueling for more than 50 years. About 400 of the KC-135s are being replaced, but some will be continue to fly after being updated, the Air Force has said.

While politicians and community leaders have spent countless hours lobbying the Air Force to put the new tankers at their bases, campaigners won’t be allowed to make their sales pitches to team members during their visits.

“These guys aren’t making the decisions,” McConnell spokesman Stefan Bocchino said. “They’re gathering facts to send up to those who make the decisions.”

From an initial list of 54 bases, the Air Force announced Jan. 9 it had reduced it to nine finalists.

The main operating base is expected to receive 36 new tankers, while the training base will get eight. The Guard base will receive 12 KC-46s in 2018.

This will be only the initial assignment of tankers. The Air Force will hold another round of competition in a couple of years as more tankers are produced and eventually 10 bases are expected to have KC-46s.

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