TAMPA — The U.S. Air Force has announced it will cut nearly 500 aircraft from its worldwide fleet over the next five years, but the ensuing shuffle could provide a windfall for MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
The local air base will add eight additional KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling jets to its existing fleet of 16 in 2018, according to the Defense Department’s fiscal 2015 budget request that now goes to Congress.
The tankers would come with 220 additional active duty personnel and 75 reservists, an Air Force spokeswoman said.
The news elated civic and economic development officials.
“This confirms what we have said for years. MacDill Air Force Base is uniquely prepared both strategically and from a capacity perspective to handle the new aircraft,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “This is a great announcement for our city, and for the long term viability of the Air Force mission at MacDill.”
MacDill issued a statement saying only that the 6th Air Mobility Wing, the base’s host unit, “has and will continue to meet the needs of the Air Force.” The wing flies the KC-135s along with the 927th Air Refueling Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit.
The relocation of aircraft to Tampa would be part of a fleet management plan that will be devised as the Air Force draws down equipment and personnel in the wake of cuts to the military budget. While MacDill comes out ahead, other Florida bases face cuts under President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget.
Eglin Air Force Base in the Panhandle would lose two A-10 Thunderbolt II close air support units and one F15C fighter in 2015. Jacksonville Air National Guard Base loses three F-15C fighter units in 2016, according to the proposal.
Documents did not indicate where the aircraft headed to Tampa are currently based. Ann Stefanek, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said that decision will come as 2018 approaches. “What particular tail ends up at a particular location will depend on the fleet management process,” Stefanek said. Planners will look for similar models of the aircraft that require similar maintenance procedures.
“There is not a ‘loser’ per se and MacDill is a ‘winner,’ ” Stefanek said. “That was just a broader Air Force decision that results in a gain of eight to MacDill.”
Nonetheless, the news was celebrated here.
“Solidifying what is already a significant position for MacDill is very important,” said Stuart Rogel, chairman and chief executive of the Tampa Bay Partnership.
The good news comes after a major disappointment last year. In January 2013, the Air Force said MacDill would not host the first wave of KC-46 aircraft, the next-generation refueling vehicle now in development. Officials expressed hope that MacDill will be reconsidered for future rounds as more of the aircraft are produced.
“We have to be very vigilant because of the changing nature of the military and downsizing,” Rogel said. “We have to do everything we can to secure and support our base; that strengthens our position whenever there is base closing activity.”
Rogel said MacDill has a “huge ripple effect” throughout the region’s economy. From military and civilian payroll to local expenditures for goods and services to indirect jobs created to support 11,000 active duty military and civilian workers and their families, the base pumps nearly $5 billion a year into the local economy, a 2011 base study showed.