Active-duty squadron could be permanently moving to Air Reserve base in upstate New York

News

Jerry Zremski

The Buffalo News, N.Y.

Active-duty military personnel and upward of $100 million in investment could be coming to the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station if Pentagon officials choose the facility as a base for its new KC-46A Pegasus refueling tanker.

And with the Pentagon considering such a move, the Buffalo area’s two House members are pushing to make it happen.

“Selecting NFARS as the next Air Force Reserve location for the KC-46A would allow for the Air Force to take advantage of Western New York’s talented workforce and high standard of living,” Reps. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, and Chris Jacobs, an Orchard Park Republican, said in a letter Friday to Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, chief of Air Force Reserve.

“As the Air Force continues its search for the next Air Force Reserve home for the KC-46A Pegasus, we ask that you give serious consideration to NFARS for its established track record of success and support to our nation’s armed forces,” the lawmakers added.

The Air Force recently announced that the Niagara Falls base was one of six it is considering for the new refueling tanker mission. The other contenders are Beale Air Force Base and March Air Reserve Base in California, Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana, Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and Joint Base Andrews-Naval Air Field in Maryland south of Washington, D.C.

If the Air Force chooses the Niagara Falls site when it makes its decision later this year, the move would utterly transform the local base, said John Cooper, president of the Niagara Falls Military Affairs Council, a community organization that supports the facility.

An active-duty support squadron of about 175 personnel would be stationed at the base, which would continue to serve about 2,000 reservists, Cooper said. That would be the first active-duty Air Force squadron stationed in Niagara Falls since 1971, when the base converted to a reserve facility.

The base would become home to 12 KC-46A Pegasus aircraft, replacing the eight KC-135 refueling tankers that the 914th Air Refueling Wing currently flies out of Niagara Falls.

In an online description of the new aircraft, the Air Force said: “With greater refueling, cargo and aeromedical evacuation capabilities compared to the KC-135, the KC-46A will provide next generation aerial refueling support to Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and partner-nation receivers.”

The KC-46A is slightly larger than the KC-135, meaning the hangars at Niagara Falls would have to be rebuilt to accommodate the new aircraft. That being the case, Air Force officials have indicated that if they decide to bring the new aircraft to Niagara Falls, it will mean upward of $100 million in investment at the base, Cooper said.

“This would be absolutely wonderful,” he added.

Federal base-closure commissions threatened to shutter the Niagara Falls facility both in the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s, but such a shutdown would presumably no longer be a worry if the Air Force locates the new aircraft in Niagara Falls.

“We would be all set for many, many years to come,” Cooper said.

That’s why Higgins and Jacobs are pushing so hard to bring the new mission to the Niagara Falls base. Noting that the base is Niagara County’s largest employer, they said in their letter to the Air Force Reserve chief: “The base has adequate operations support in two large modern lodging facilities, a newly constructed fitness and training center, and a large capacity dining facility. The region provides the amenities and services essential to supporting our military families such as affordable housing and cost of living, quality childcare and education, and first-rate hospitals and clinics.”

Air Force officials will get to check out those facilities firsthand this summer as they conduct site visits at the Niagara Falls base and the other contenders for the new mission.

Those facilities “will be assessed against operational requirements, potential impacts to existing missions, housing, infrastructure and manpower,” the Air Force said in a news release.

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