New tankers could help prevent Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst from closing
WASHINGTON -- Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is receiving a new fleet of Air Force tankers, making it more likely to be protected against any future round of military base closings.
"It ensures the viability of the joint base," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.). "This is the most important protection we could have secured."
U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) called the decision "a huge step" in ensuring that the base "remains a vital economic engine for New Jersey."
It contributes $6.9 billion to the local economy and is the second-largest employer in New Jersey, behind only the state government, Smith said.
"This is incredible news for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, the state of New Jersey and the future of national security in the United States," said Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3rd Dist.).
Gov. Chris Christie said that other bases with the KC-46 have experienced from 100 to 350 new jobs and military construction spending of $42 million to $267 million as a result.
"Gaining the KC-46A aircraft means securing the Joint Base's future for the next six decades," Christie said. "I'm proud of and excited for the base and with this news look forward to seeing it continue to grow as a beacon of strength, hope and security for our state, region and nation."
In June, the joint base was named as one of five finalists to house the tankers, and members of the state's congressional delegation have been lobbying the Air Force. Another of the finalists, Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., also will house a 24-tanker fleet.
"The KC-46 Pegasus will be one of the most elite air-refueling tanker planes in the world and provide vital support to Air Force missions across the globe," said Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st Dist.). "The plane is designed to carry passengers, cargo and patients, and can defeat and survive threats using multiple layers of protection."
The base's "strong track record in tanker and airlift operations, its prime location, and the thousands of military flight hours our service men and women perform each year ensures the base is the right choice for the KC-46," said U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
Lawmakers have worked to protect the joint base from any future cuts.
"The message over the years has been simple: McGuire has the location, the facilities, the experience and the workforce to ensure that the Air Force maintains its 'global reach,'" said Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.), the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and former chairman of the subcommittee that drafted the Pentagon's budget.
The defense policy bill for the current fiscal year prevented another round of base closings, and Congress also has blocked the Pentagon from moving or retiring any of the KC-10 refueling tanker planes located at the base. Those tankers will be replaced by the KC-46s.
Great news for #NJ! We won the battle & @jointbasemdl will host next gen KC-46 air refuel tankers. Critical to nat'l security, local economy-- Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) January 12, 2017
In 2005, the last round of base closings led to the creation of the joint base in Wrightstown, the only tri-service military facility in the U.S.
Twelve years earlier, the Defense Department wanted to scale back McGuire Air Force Base, now part of the joint facility, and shift operations to Plattsburgh AFB in New York. The base closing commission, led by former New Jersey Rep, Jim Courter, rejected the Pentagon's recommendations and decided expand McGuire and close Plattsburgh instead.
To prevent any future cuts to the state's military facilities, a task force chaired by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, recommended in July 2015 that the state encourage defense-related development around its military bases, produce well-trained employees to work there, and regularly lobby the federal government.
Guadagno said placing the tankers at the joint base will "provide financial and job security to the surrounding communities that depend on the base."
President Barack Obama used the joint base in December 2014 as the backdrop for announcing the end of combat operations in Afghanistan.