Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst has plenty riding on its bid to become the home of the Air Force's next generation of midair refueling jets.
The installation has plenty of supporters, too, as evident from a recent letter from U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-3rd of Toms River, expressing local support for placement of the second batch of KC-46 jets being built by Boeing.
The joint base is one of five military installations vying for the new jets.
The Sept. 23 letter was signed by 282 state, county and local officials, including 148 from Burlington County. It referenced the base's economic importance to New Jersey as the state's second-largest employer and its $6.9 billion economic impact.
"The joint base is the lifeblood of the community. Winning the competition to base the KC-46 at (the joint base) is absolutely vital to the future economic health and well-being of our municipalities," the officials said in the letter. "This mission will help grow the local economy."
The letter also cited the strong community ties between the base and surrounding schools and towns. Seventy community leaders have been named "honorary commanders" by the joint base's command staff in recognition of their support for its mission.
"We value JB-MDL's contributions to the community and are committed to doing everything possible to ensure that it has a prosperous future, right here in South Jersey," the officials said.
The signatures included state Sens. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park; Dawn Marie Addiego, R-8th of Evesham; Sam Thompson, R-12th of Old Bridge; Christopher Connors, R-9th of Lacey; and Assembly members Herb Conaway, D-7th of Delran; Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra; Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, R-8th of Evesham; Joe Howarth, R-8th of Evesham; and Ron Dancer, R-12th of Plumsted; as well as all five members of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders.
Mayors and other elected leaders from 35 of the county's 40 towns also signed the letter.
The letter is the latest effort by MacArthur and other New Jersey leaders to lobby for the base's selection for the new jets, which are being built as upgrades for the Air Force's aging tanker fleet.
The existing fleet is largely made up of 1950s-era KC-135s and KC-10 Extenders, which have been in service since the early 1980s.
Currently, 32 KC-10s and eight KC-135s are housed at the joint base, so winning selection for the new jets is considered crucial to the installation's future, particularly if another round of base closures eventually occurs.
The first batch of 18 KC-46 tankers is being tested and is expected to be delivered to the Air Force by January 2018. The second batch isn't expected to be ready until 2020.
MacArthur and Rep. Chris Smith, R-4th of Hamilton, also sent a letter to Air Force leaders this summer advocating for the joint base's selection, citing its strategic location, existing facilities and partnerships.
The letter was signed by New Jersey's two U.S. senators and all 12 members of its House delegation, as well as Reps. Peter King and Kathleen Rice, both of New York, and Mike Fitzpatrick and Ryan Costello, both of Pennsylvania.
A resolution in support of the base's selection for the KC-46 is also scheduled to be voted on by the full Assembly on Thursday.