JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- The Air Force is a step closer to bedding down its anticipated fleet of KC-46A Pegasus aerial tankers.
Officials recently announced Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma will serve as the Air Force's KC-46A formal training unit and McConnell AFB, Kasas will be the first active duty-led main operating base for the aircraft.
Although the official basing decision was announced April 23, experts at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center have been working behind the scenes for more than two years, looking at both facility engineering needs and potential environmental impacts.
A crucial factor in the final basing decision was the assessment of possible environmental effects the new aircraft could have on the installation and surrounding communities.
Altus and McConnell AFBs were selected as the preferred alternatives for the formal training unit and main operating base in May 2013, but the definitive basing decision pended completion of an environmental impact statement, or EIS, required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, and completed by AFCEC's Air Force NEPA Center in less than one year, officials said.
"As far as we know, this is the first major weapon system beddown EIS completed within a 12-month time frame," said Dale Clark, the Air Force NEPA Center director. "While all EISs can't be completed that quickly, in this case we were driven by a tight basing timeline and aided by terrific cooperation from the bases and major commands involved in the process."
With the basing decision finalized, AFCEC's facility engineering directorate is prepared to begin awarding construction contracts over the next several weeks. To be able to award the construction contracts at the earliest opportunity, AFCEC began working with Air Mobility Command in 2011 to develop facility requirements that could be adapted to non-specific locations.
"The uncertainty regarding the final site locations meant we needed to develop standard designs that could easily be site-adapted to the final site locations selected," said Thomas Hodges, the AFCEC branch chief responsible for the KC-46A military construction program. "Now that we have the final basing decision, we are poised to move quickly and begin awarding the actual construction contracts."
The preparatory work made it possible for construction projects to be awarded only weeks after the basing decision was finalized.
"AFCEC did an exceptional job in meeting the aggressive strategic basing timeline and is now ready to execute a facility construction program in line with the first aircraft delivery in 2016 for (formal training unit) and (main operating base one)," said Alexander Karibian, the AMC/A7 KC-46A lead. "With the EIS being the long pole in the tent, AFCEC agencies successfully aligned the potential construction awards to the final record of decision of the EIS -- an unimaginable feat, which was accomplished in less than a year."
McConnell AFB has eight projects planned for fiscal year 2014, totaling more than $219 million. Projects include construction of one- and three-bay maintenance hangars, a two-bay corrosion control and fuel cell maintenance hangar, a flight simulator building and a dormitory. Additional projects include apron space additions and fuel hydrant expansions, as well as alterations to other miscellaneous facilities. Five additional projects, totaling $34 million, are slated for fiscal 2015.
Altus AFB will be initiating more than $30 million in construction across five projects this year, to include construction of a fuselage trainer, a flight trainer simulator facility, squadron operations facility addition and an addition to a fuel cell hangar, as well as modifications and renovations to an existing Operations Group facility.
AFCEC's facility engineering directorate was able to package several facility requirements into the same contract, and anticipates significant time and cost savings as a result, Hodges said.
In addition to the construction planned at Altus and McConnell AFBs, AFCEC engineers are also preparing for future infrastructure development at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, which will be providing depot maintenance for the KC-46A. The NEPA Center is currently finalizing an environmental assessment at the installation, with construction planned to begin in fiscal 2015.
AFCEC will be managing the construction contracts and providing oversight at all three installations.
The first refueling tankers are scheduled to arrive in 2016, part of a 15-year beddown plan which will require additional basing decisions and military construction projects.