It takes 36 KC-135 tankers to refuel six B-1B or B-52 bombers when the bombers deploy from Barksdale AFB, La., to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, says retired Lt. Gen. John Sams Jr., who was head of 15th Air Force and responsible for half of the Air Force’s mobility assets. Sams told attendees at an Air Force Association luncheon on Capitol Hill that it takes hundreds of tankers at one time to move a fleet overseas. On the routine Barksdale-Diego Garcia route, those 36 refueling tankers may come from Fairchild AFB, Wash., Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, Kadena AB, Japan, and Andersen AFB, Guam. Additionally, the mission typically requires four extra tankers to refuel aircraft carrying support personnel and gear for the bombers.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.