Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Murkowski looks to expand Eielson

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is hopeful the Air Force will station some of its next generation refueling tankers at Eielson Air Force Base.

The senator questioned the deputy director of the Air National Guard last week about the possibility of Eielson's 168th Air Refueling Wing receiving the still-in-development KC-X tanker.

Murkowski noted that the 168th is the only refueling unit in an Arctic territory and transfers more fuel than any other tanker group when refueling active duty aircraft in the Pacific.

The deputy director of the guard reportedly promised a "transparent and fair" process when deciding where to base KC-Xs, similar to the process used to base F-35s last year.

That concerned Murkowski because at one point Eielson was said to be one of the top choices to first receive the F-35, then the Air Force later relegated the base to a mid-level choice below dozens of other bases.

"The Alaska congressional delegation and the Interior Alaska community were convinced by the Air Force that Eielson would be highly competitive for the F-35, only to be disappointed when the rankings came out last year," Murkowski said in a statement. "We need to stay on top of this process, and I plan to engage in extensive dialogue with the Air Force to ensure that Eielson retains its preeminent role in aircraft refueling in the decades to come."

In speaking with a top Air Force official at a hearing last week, Murkowski also brought up the future of a possible coal-to-liquid plant at Eielson.

Terry Yonkers, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, reportedly told Murkowski that the Air Force is looking at the environmental impact of such technology before deciding how viable it would be for Eielson.

The Air Force received a $10 million contract in fiscal year 2009 in support of bringing such a plane to Eielson.

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Source: By Chris Freiberg. Originally published April 24, 2010