Monday, February 23, 2015

Travis consortium hard at it to preserve base’s mission

Travis consortium hard at it to preserve base’s mission

By Sandy Person
February 22, 2015 | Daily Republic
It has been a year and a half since the Air Force indicated its intention to retire the KC-10 air refueling aircraft, nearly half of which – 27 – are based at Travis Air Force Base.

People ask, “so what is happening with the KC-10?” The short answer is that the KC-10 will be retired, but the timetable is uncertain.

The KC-10 civilian counterpart, DC-10/MD-10 aircraft, have all been retired from the commercial airlines worldwide. Only FedEx still uses them and it plans to retire those remaining. Spare parts and maintenance has become increasingly more difficult and expensive to procure.

The chief of staff of the Air Force, Gen. Mark Welsh, said last year if the Budget Control Act’s sequestration returns in 2016, the Air Force will be forced to begin retiring the KC-10. The Budget Control Act mandated cuts totaling more than $1 trillion, split between defense and non-defense spending over 10 years.

Rep. John Garamendi, who represents the 3rd Congressional District, was able to add language to the 2015 defense authorization bill requiring the Air Force to provide a report on the outlook for the air refueling aircraft inventory, current and future refueling mission requirements, the risks associated with retiring the KC-10 and strategies to mitigate those risks  prior to any decision to retire the KC-10.

Despite the unresolved issue of sequestration, the Air Force is not seeking to retire the KC-10 in the 2016 budget, which was sent to Congress on Feb. 2 for consideration.

Change in Congress after last fall’s elections is yet another layer of uncertainty. Add to that the ISIS threat in northern Iraq and Syria, which has required thousands of refueling sorties. The loss of the KC-10 would undoubtedly strain our country’s capabilities and those of the coalition forces conducting airstrikes.

Despite the pressure to cut defense costs, Congress did not allow retirement of any Air Force aircraft, and refused to authorize a Base Realignment and Closures round in 2017.

At present the KC-10 remains an important component of the Air Force’s refueling capability, but budget constraints dictate that it will soon become too costly to continue to operate.

The decision to eliminate the KC-10, when made, will have a significant impact on Travis and our community. Base officials indicate that a substantial number of military and civilian positions are directly related to the KC-10 presence here. If those were lost, there would be heavy impact on the local housing market and the general economy.

Travis will be a candidate for the new KC-46 air refueling aircraft, now just coming into the inventory to replace the older KC-135, Eisenhower-era tankers. But that is unlikely before the beginning of the next decade. The question looms: “If that is the plan, will there be a gap in the mission? And, if so, how long will it be?”

This places continuing reliance on the Travis Community Consortium’s advocacy efforts to work with the Department of the Air Force, Air Mobility Command and our local, state and federal elected representatives to ensure a continuing air refueling mission at Travis without a huge gap in capability and manpower.

As the Travis Community Consortium leads this advocacy, we are hopeful that all elements of the community join our efforts to promote, protect and enhance the mission of Travis.

Sandy Person is executive director of the Solano Economic Development Corporation and a member of the Travis Community Consortium, a local advocacy group that supports Travis Air Force Base. Its members include Solano County, its cities, Solano Community College, the Solano Economic Development Corporation, Travis Regional Armed Services Committee and member businesses.