Top DoD Officials Echo Benefits of Basing KC-46s at Eielson AFB

DoD Considers Co-locating Tanker Aircraft with 100 Fifth-Generation Fighters

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) this week pressed two senior Department of Defense (DoD) officials in hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) about the advantages of basing a squadron of the KC-46 tanker aircraft at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. The U.S. Air Force will soon be announcing a decision on where to base a squadron of KC-46As at one of four candidate bases in the Indo-Pacific, which includes Eielson Air Force Base (AFB). Senator Sullivan again highlighted the fact that basing KC-46s in Alaska would provide the U.S. Air Force with globally-responsive aerial refueling capabilities and, the pairing of the KC-46 with the 100 combat coded 5th Generation fighters Alaska will soon have, would send a strong message to U.S. adversaries 

On Tuesday, General Terrance O’Shaughnessy, Commander of U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) testified before a SASC Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee hearing chaired by Senator Sullivan.  

“Given the strategic location of Alaska, the Air Force is looking at its OCONUS bed-down decision of the KC-46,” Sullivan said in the hearing. “The Secretary of Defense has testified that if you co-located KC-46s that are at the seams of [INDO]PACOM, EUCOM, NORTHCOM, STRATCOM, co-located with over 100 fifth-generation fighters, which we will have in Alaska here in the next two years, you would [send] a message of ‘extreme strategic reach’ to our potential adversaries on what they see in Alaska, KC-46s co-located with 100 fifth-gen fighters.”   

General O’Shaughnessy agreed with the senator, also highlighting the training benefits made available by the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex near Eielson in the Interior of Alaska. 

“…[What] I will absolutely agree with you on is the strategic value of having access to [KC-46s] from Alaska,”  O’Shaughnessy said. “As you mentioned, you tie it to that fifth-gen [fighters], it does make a powerful statement…. And then you mentioned the leveraging -- not only the ability to deploy, but also the ability to train. You look at the [Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex] and the ability to operate there, one of the continuous challenges we have is the ability to get tanker support for those operations that are happening at JPARC. And as we see hopefully a steady increase in our use of the JPARC range, not only for the fifth-gen center of excellence, but I would start thinking about as an Arctic center of excellence, as well.”  

On Thursday, Senator Sullivan again questioned Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper about the strategic advantages of basing a squadron of KC-46s in Alaska. 

“My question [is] having a deployment of KC-46s in the OCONUS bed-down in an area that can reach multiple [Combatant Commands] like a place like Alaska with the 100 5th [Generation] fighters…what message does that additionally send to our adversaries?” Sullivan asked. “You've already talked about the issue of extreme strategic reach when I asked that question earlier.” 

“…the location of Alaska gives you great reach in terms of whether you go across the Pole into Russia or toward China,” Secretary Esper replied. “When you couple it up with an amalgamation of forces, it does - it does put the enemy in a different posture - your adversaries in a different posture because you now have that reach, that lethality at hand and ready to do what it might need to do if called upon. 

Senator Sullivan included language in the Senate-passed Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that requires the DoD to produce a report which takes into account factors favorable to Alaska when considering basing locations for the KC-46, such as strategic location, ample training opportunities, sufficient airfield space, existing infrastructure, and minimal construction costs. 


  • Senator Sullivan has been working with the Department of Defense for several years on OCONUS basing of the KC-46A Pegasus and ensuring that the Air Force gives proper strategic consideration to its basing decision. To date, the Air Force has not yet set a date for announcing its OCONUS KC-46A decision.

  • Senator Sullivan continues to be engaged on this issue and has included provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Years 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 regarding this issue: 

    • A Sense of Congress regarding the OCONUS basing of the KC-46A, which was included in S.2943, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (Sec. 1094) and enacted in to law.
    • A Sense of Congress regarding the OCONUS basing of the KC-46A, which was included in the Senate version of H.R.2810, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (Sec.1047) and was rescinded in conference.
    • A Sense of Congress regarding the OCONUS basing of the KC-46A, which was included in the Conference Report of H.R. 5515, the National Defense Authorization for Fiscal Year 2019 (Sec. 1034).
    • A Sense of Congress and a limitation on use of funds regarding the OCONUS basing of the KC-46A, which was included in S.1790, the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 (Sec. 352).

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