FAIRFIELD — Travis Community Consortium chairman Bud Ross said he is hearing too much from different military commanders to consider the Air Force’s potential scrapping of its KC-10 fleet “to be a hollow threat.”
The consortium, which is made up of local government and business groups that lobby for Travis’ needs, has put its concerns about the future of the Air Force’s KC-10 air tanker fleet and its effect on Travis at the top of its agenda.
Its members and representatives spent the past week in contact with the area’s congressional delegates, “and we will continue to do that,” Ross said.
“We will keep trying to take our message to the elected officials because they are the only ones who can turn this thing around,” Ross said.
Members of the region’s congressional delegation, such as Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, have already come out against the cuts, with Garamendi saying the KC-10s need to stay on duty until the KC-46s are delivered.
Ross said budget pressures must be fierce if the Air Force is considering cutting out the KC-10 fleet, but eliminating the KC-10s “would leave a big gap in our capabilities.”
“I don’t know how we could meet the type of operations tempo that we are undertaking now with that airplane and the KC-46, the replacement air tanker Boeing is currently building, a long way from being bedded down,” Ross said.
This comes after news reports about measures the Air Force is examining in order to deal with required billions of dollars in budget cuts the military is expecting to endure during the next decade as the result of federal cuts. Recent reports in media such as the Air Force Times and DefenseNews.com, as well as testimony Wednesday in the House Armed Services Committee, has seen the idea of retiring the 59-aircraft KC-10 fleet as one way to cost costs.
Travis Air Force Base is home to 27 of the KC-10s, considered the workhorse air tanker for military operations at home and overseas. Travis’ Public Affairs Office declined to speculate on what effect the loss of the KC-10s would have, since it is not yet a specific proposal.
Community leaders were not so shy.
Fairfield City Manager Sean Quinn on Thursday said Travis is the largest employer in Fairfield and Solano County, with a $1.6 billion financial impact on the region last fiscal year. He said retirement of the KC-10 would have hurt local spending.
The precise financial impact is not known yet, Quinn said.
He recalled a reduction in operations at the base about three decades ago when his sister lived in Vacaville.
“She had a very hard time selling her house,” Quinn said.
According to an Air Force Magazine report, Air Mobility Command head Gen. Paul Selva said at a press conference Tuesday at the Air Force Association’s 2013 Air and Space Conference that the Air Force may have to cut and lose the KC-10 fleet so that the service can pay for bringing in the new KC-46, the first of which has yet to be delivered.
Selva said such a cut is one of the options the Air Force is considering and that the KC-10’s retirement could be “how we make the investment dollars available to keep the KC-46 moving on its current schedule. And we intend to do that,” according to the Air Force Magazine article.
Selva pointed out there could be an option where the KC-10s could be retired as the KC-46s are delivered. The first KC-46 is expected to fly in 2015. Boeing is expected to deliver 18 of the tankers by August 2017 and the Air Force expects to get 179 tankers by 2028, according to an Air Force fact sheet.
Travis supporters are still worried, since the Air Force would not be fielding such ideas “unless they were in dire straits,” Ross said.
Losing the KC-10 from Travis without a replacement would mean the base loses its aerial refueling mission, “and that is a pretty prestigious one and we would be down to one mission (air transport),” Ross said.
“The danger of being a one-mission base is that it makes us even more vulnerable for a drawdown in the future,” Ross said. “I am not saying that would happen, but Travis would be more vulnerable.”
It doesn’t help that Congress has been unwilling to make decision to cut out excess bases that the military has been saying it has, Ross said.
Ryan McCarthy contributed to this report. Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.