The Air Force’s tanker presence in the Arctic will grow, with four more KC-135s heading to a new Active component at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.
The KC-135s and up to 220 Active duty Airmen will head to the 168th Wing at Eielson, with aircraft expected to arrive in 2023, according to an Air Force release. The move will bring Eielson’s total number of Stratotankers to 12, with the additional KC-135s coming from other units across the Air Force.
The Air Force said the move is in concert with the 2019 Defense Department’s Arctic Strategy to address threats in the Asia-Pacific and it comes on the heels of the department’s first-ever Arctic Strategy that outlined the importance of the region to USAF operations.
The 168th Wing is the Air Force’s only Arctic refueling unit, and its current eight KC-135s transfer more fuel than any other Air National Guard tanker wing, according to an Alaska Air National Guard release.
“The Alaska Air National Guard does an incredible job working with our mission partners in an existing association with shared aircraft and Active duty personnel at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, and we will expand that healthy partnership up north at Eielson Air Force Base,” said Maj. Gen. Torrence W. Saxe, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard and commissioner for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, in the release. “The additional KC-135s and personnel underscore the growing importance of the Arctic and our mission to protect and defend our state and nation.”
The announcement comes as Eielson’s fleet is already growing, with more F-35As arriving at the base—the first Pacific Air Forces Joint Strike Fighter unit.