Wichita — McConnell Air Force Base will add 522 people and 15 more air refueling tankers as it moves into the newer KC-135R models over the next seven years, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback said Friday.
"It becomes the largest and most modern tanker fleet in the world," Brownback said in a telephone interview.
"The tanker fleet is really growing in importance to the United States as we are conducting so many of our operations anymore from bases far away that you have to have a very good tanker," Brownback said.
With the additions, McConnell Air Force base will be home to 72 KC-135R air refueling tankers. McConnell is being designated a "Super R" wing, signifying that the arrival of the model 767 tankers will make it the world's largest KC135R hub.
"We will be reducing bases, particularly in Europe, and I interpret this as a move to consolidate those bases and consolidate them back into the United States," Brownback said.
When the transition is complete in 2010, the 22nd Air Refueling Wing will have an additional 92 officers and 430 enlisted personnel.
"Clearly, the Air Force has decided this is a good efficiency move, and an appropriate move for them," Brownback said. "They like McConnell. They like the fact the planes are well maintained there, that people know how to upkeep them there better than anywhere in the world."
While Friday's announcement deals only with the KC-135R upgrade, it essentially means that the Air Force is accelerating the transition into the 767 tankers, according to Brownback's office.
Boeing Co., whose commercial aircraft division has been struggling since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, last month won a $16 billion Air Force contract to lease 100 modified 767 jetliners for use as refueling tankers.
"I think the two moves together represent an extraordinary positive step for Wichita," Brownback said.