New Generation of Air Force Tankers Headed to Joint BaseAir Force Decision Could Keep JBMDL Safe From Closure for Decades
In these polarized political times it is highly unusual for Democrats and Republicans to agree on anything.
But last Thursday a number of Garden State politicians were, for one day at least, united. The U.S. Air Force had announced that it would base some of its next generation of air refueling tankers, the KC-46A, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. That thrilled Democrats such as U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez and Cory Booker and Congressman Donald Norcross, who represents New Jersey’s 1st District that includes parts of Camden, Gloucester and – most important to this story – Burlington counties, as well as Republicans such as Congressmen Chris Smith, who represents New Jersey’s 4th District that includes portions of Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties, and Congressman Tom MacArthur, whose 3rd District includes large chunks of Burlington and Ocean counties including Barnegat Township and the western half of Stafford Township.
“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 MacArthur. “I am grateful for the contributions and support of Governor Christie, Lieutenant Governor Guadagno, Senators Booker and Menendez, my colleagues in the House, Congressmen Smith and Norcross, as well as the hundreds of elected officials (such as the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders which unanimously approved a resolution supporting JBMDL’s bid for the new tankers at its Jan, 20, 2016 meeting) and community members who joined us in the fight to secure the KC-46. This truly was a team effort.”
At first glance it may not seem as if the Air Force’s decision was such a bombshell. The Joint Base will receive just 24 of the new planes built by Boeing and designed to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of KC-135 Stratotankers, which were built between 1955 and 1965.
But JBMDL is one of just two bases – the other is California’s Travis Air Force Base – that will receive the new tankers in the first round of deployment. That makes the N.J. base a cornerstone of the Air Force’s new tanker fleet, which almost assures the base will survive in case another round of BRAC develops.
In the 1990s and 2005 BRAC was one of the nastiest words imaginable in the U.S. armed forces and in the halls of Congress. It is the acronym for Base Realignment and Closure.
In the latter half of the 20th century the Pentagon and Congress finally tackled an issue that had been building up for years, indeed for decades and even centuries – a vast proliferation of U.S. military bases throughout the world and the country. You see, once a base opens it is very difficult to close, even if it has lost its raison d’etre. Military need becomes ensnarled with economic concerns because a base closing can devastate nearby municipalities that have come to depend on military paydays, especially in rural areas where a base is often the only game in town.
Duplication and waste had become a huge problem for the Pentagon. But every time it tried to close a base it met with huge local and, by extension, congressional resistance. So the BRAC Commission was formed to remove, to as much extent as possible, politics from the decision-making process. There were five BRAC rounds, in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005, resulting in the closure of over 350 installations.
In 1993 McGuire was on the chopping block. Defense Secretary Les Aspin had recommended making Plattsburgh Air Force Base the Air Force’s main transportation hub on the East Coast, moving many of McGuire’s missions to the far north of New York State. In the end, thanks to the BRAC Commission, it was Plattsburgh that was closed in 1995. By the way, the commission’s chairman during the BRAC battles of the early 1990s was Jim Couter, a former Republican representative from New Jersey.
The BRAC Commission has gone dormant since 2005. But the specter of its re-emergence frightens any politician with a base in his or her district or state. So the Air Force decision to base the KC-46A at JBMDL was a godsend.
“Stationing the KC-46 fleet at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is a recognition of the strategic importance of the base and New Jersey to our country’s national security,” said Rep. Norcross. “This will help protect the base from BRAC closure for years to come – leading to more jobs, greater economic growth and a stronger, safer nation.”
There’s no doubt that the Joint Base is an economic lynchpin of the region. It employs and houses more than 42,000 airmen, soldiers, sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, civilians and family members. The base is comprised of almost 4,000 facilities representing $9.3 billion in infrastructure and is the second largest employer in the Garden State, generating more than $6.9 billion in economic impact for New Jersey every year.
— Rick Mellerup