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Air Force Picks First Three KC-46A Bases

The U.S. Air Force has picked the first three bases to station the new KC-46A refueling tanker, the service announced.

The service selected Altus Air Force Base, Okla.; McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.; and Pease Air National Guard Base, N.H.; it said in a May 22 release.

The decision, first announced by lawmakers from those states, drew instant criticism from colleagues on Capitol Hill who weren't so lucky. Air Force officials were careful to say the selection is "preliminary" and may change, pending the outcome of a year-long environmental review.

"These are the preferred alternatives," Ann Stefanek, a spokeswoman for the Air Force at the Pentagon, said in a telephone interview. "A final basing decision won't be made until the environmental impact statement is complete."

The Air Force initially plans to buy 179 of the Boeing Co.-built planes as part of an effort to replace more than 400 KC-135 and 59 KC-10 tankers, according to the service. The first phase of the program is expected to cost about $35 billion and conclude in 15 years.

The selection of the bases was based on site surveys, operational assessments and cost estimates and made by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh.

Senators from Oklahoma, Kansas and New Hampshire were ecstatic and didn't wait for the Air Force's official announcement to share the news.

"This decision will have a positive impact on Oklahoma and the city of Altus for decades to come," Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., the top ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

Altus Air Force Base, located in the southwestern corner of Oklahoma, was selected as the preferred spot to host the unit that will train pilots to fly the tanker.

The Air Force plans to house the aircraft at a total of 11 bases, including a training site and 10 operational sites, according to Stefanek.

McConnell Air Force Base, Kan., located in Wichita, was picked as the top spot for the first active-duty main operating base and Pease Air Guard Station, N.H., was selected as the best location for the first Air National Guard main operating base.

"I couldn’t be more proud," Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., said in a statement. "Our state and the city of Wichita have a long history of supporting air mobility and standing behind the air men and women who call McConnell home."

New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, made similar comments.

"This is great news for Pease and the dedicated members of the 157th Air Refueling Wing," they said in a release. "We're thrilled that the Air Force recognizes Pease's many strategic advantages."

Lawmakers from states such as Washington, North Dakota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio, were upset that installations there weren't initially selected.

“I’m extremely disappointed by the Air Force’s decision today, and I have plenty of questions on how they reached this conclusion,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement. "Later today and in the coming weeks, I will raise my deep concerns about this decision with the highest levels of our military.”

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