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February 19. 2013 9:15PM

Sen. Shaheen visits Pease to support bid for new Air Guard tankers

PORTSMOUTH - Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., received a briefing at Pease Air National Guard Base Tuesday on the base's bid to be the home of the next generation of refueling tankers.

Shaheen has joined the rest of New Hampshire's congressional delegation in vocal support of Pease and the 157th Air Refueling Wing as the final sites are chosen to house the KC-46A refueling tankers.

The KC-46A's will replace the Eisenhower KC-135s that have been operated and maintained at Pease since 1975.

Pease is now one of five finalists being evaluated to be the first home for the new tankers, something Shaheen said will be a boost to the regional economy and will help ensure that the Air National Guard stays strong at Pease.

Each of the five bases will be evaluated by March 1 to assess each location against operational and training requirements, potential impact on existing missions, housing, infrastructure and manpower.

Pease evaluation

A site evaluation team was in town last week to evaluate Pease, and was able to see first hand how quickly the base can become operational after a severe weather event as a result of the blizzard earlier this month.

Shaheen said there are many reasons why Pease is perfectly situated to accept the KC-46As ahead of other bases, including its proximity to important air refueling routes, its long runway, physical and communication infrastructure, and an established association between active-duty military and the National Guard.

Pease is home to the largest Air National Guard tanker ramp in the Northeast and the third longest runway in New England at 11,321 feet.

Pease also has an existing simulator that can house the KC-46A, saving the $8 million to $10 million it would cost to build a new one.

Shaheen said Pease has a "magnificent story to tell" from its success integrating active duty and Guard personnel, to the excellence of operations always conducted at the base.

"We are going to continue to do everything we can to make sure decision-making is transparent," Shaheen said.

Air National Guard bases in Ohio, New Jersey, Kansas and Pennsylvania are also vying to be one of the two sites chosen in May.

Brig. Gen. Carolyn Protzmann, commander of the 157th Refueling Wing, said if Pease is selected, the KC-46As would not start arriving until 2017. Pease would get 12 of the $160 million refueling planes over time.

The KC-135 remains the backbone of air refueling, and Potzmann said if Pease is not selected, it will be business as usual for now.

All four members of New Hampshire's congressional delegation sent a letter to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh on Feb. 11 encouraging the Air Force to select Pease Air National Guard Base as the new home for the KC-46A.

"Pease stands out because of its existing infrastructure to support the KC-46A with nearly one million gallons of bulk fuel storage and parking for up to 19 of the new aircraft. In addition to having one of the largest aircraft parking ramps in the Air National Guard, Pease has one of the longest runways in the Northeast and an absence of any environmental issues that would impede the basing and operation of the KC-46A," the letter said.

gmacalaster@newstote.com


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