KC-46A-600x400The U.S. Air Force announced its decision Wednesday to base the initial delivery of its newest long-range air refueling tanker – the Boeing-built KC-46A – at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Ks., a decision that disappointed Washington state political leaders who had actively lobbied for Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane, Wash. to win the honor.

Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) expressed disappointment over the Air Force decision, but also looked forward to Fairchild being the home to future deliveries of the KC-46A.

[pullquote align=”right”]State Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane): “The last time I checked, North Korea, China and Russia were all closer to Washington than to Kansas.”[/pullquote]“While it was our hope that Fairchild would be the preferred base to host the next-generation refueling tankers, today’s announcement included recognition that Fairchild is a vibrant and busy base, and will compete well for new tankers,” McMorris Rodgers said. “As the Air Force continues to base KC-46A refueling tankers at additional installations over the next few years, I am confident that Fairchild will compete very well. It is a great base and will have a valuable mission moving forward.”

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) added his thoughts to those of McMorris Rodgers, and this will mark the first (and perhaps last) time this writer will commend Gov. Jay Inslee for making a truly prescient comment in his prepared statement regarding the Air Force decision:

“This is an extremely unfortunate decision by the Air Force. Fairchild Air Force Base has a strong tradition as an integral part of our national defense and is ideally located, particularly as U.S. strategy calls for directing greater attention to the Pacific theater. The Air Force’s decision today does not follow that important national policy.”

Inslee’s comment is warranted and should prompt further conversation. Two points to consider: 1) The Obama administration has been outspoken about its desire to reorganize the military mission around a primary objective of keeping China in check; and 2) a June summit is approaching between Pres. Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jiping during which North Korea and a number of serious trade issues will be discussed. Discuss.

Update: Shortly after this story was posted, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) released a statement on the tanker decision that raised ambiguous questions about whether politics governed the basing decision.

“I’m very disappointed in the Air Force’s decision and I sincerely hope that it is not politically motivated,” Baumgartner remarked in a prepared statement issued by the state Senate Majority Coalition Caucus. “The last time I checked, North Korea, China and Russia were all closer to Washington than to Kansas. Fairchild is certainly well prepared and well positioned to be utilizing the new KC-46As.”

“My concern comes not only as the senator from Washington’s 6th District, home to Fairchild, but also as someone who has previously participated in advising strategic American defense policy decisions,” Baumgartner continued. “While we may face threats from across the globe, clearly the greatest challenges that may involve the KC-46A will most likely come from the Pacific Rim.”