Beale Air Force Base could see the return of its air refueling mission with the proposed addition of eight KC-135 Stratotankers, an announcement that could cushion the impact of potentially losing the base’s aging spy plane fleet.
Beale’s 940th Wing would get the refuelers under the Defense Department’s 2014-2015 budget proposal. The Pentagon’s budget plan would cut spending, aircraft and personnel, favoring what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called a smaller, more capable and rapidly deployable force.
Air Force leaders this week proposed moving the refuelers to Beale under the Defense Department budget plan, which was released earlier this month.
Officials at the Air Force Reserve wing stressed Wednesday that any proposal would have to be approved by Congress and that it was too early to speculate on the number of personnel that would come to Beale to support a KC-135 mission.
“It’s a proposal, and proposals still need to be signed,” said 940th Wing spokeswoman Dana Lineback. “Nothing’s final until there’s a signature.”
The announcement came after word that defense cuts would include Beale’s fleet of 33 U-2 spy planes and as many as 1,070 people attached to the U-2 mission at the Marysville-area base, starting in 2016. The news worried those in economically struggling Yuba County, where unemployment tops 13 percent.
Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Marysville, who represents Yuba and Sutter counties, said losing the U-2 would be “devastating” to the Yuba-Sutter area.
Bringing KC-135 refuelers back to Beale would “expand the core missions of the base” beyond reconnaissance, U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and member of the Armed Services Committee, said in a statement. He added the mission would be “especially important for reservists ... who have made a long-term commitment to living in the area.”
More than 600 people are attached to the 940th Wing at Beale, according to base officials. About 300 more are assigned to the wing in Virginia, Southern California and Hawaii.
A Beale report released in January pegged the reserve wing’s impact on the Yuba-Sutter economy at more than $36 million.
If approved, the Defense Department decision would also mark the return of KC-135s – the Air Force’s workhorse refueling aircraft – to Beale and to the 940th after nearly a decade’s absence. The 940th flew KC-135s for decades at the former Mather and McClellan air force bases as well as Beale before the wing changed missions in 2005.
On Wednesday, Logue called the KC-135 proposal “tentative.” Citing the potential loss of 41 MC-12 Liberty reconnaissance aircraft – 37 of which are stationed at Beale – requested in the proposed budget, Logue said, “the biggest concern is the peeling away of missions from Beale.”
“We’re battling with other Air Force bases every time we try to get a mission,” Logue said. “We hope we get them. We could use the personnel.”
Call The Bee’s Darrell Smith, (916) 321-1040.