MERIDIAN — Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) welcomed the U.S. Air Force decision that could bring a new training mission to the Key Field Air National Guard Station at Meridian.
The Mississippi lawmakers were informed that Key Field is one of two final candidate bases for the C-27J training mission. The other facility is the Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport in Ohio. Six sites were originally proposed for the training unit.
“The fact that a Mississippi facility is among the final candidates for this Air Force training mission is welcome news, considering Key Field’s refueling mission will soon end. All indications are that Key Field, with its strong personnel and broad community support, is uniquely qualified for the C-27J mission. The Mississippi Air National Guard’s ability to stand up the Project Liberty training unit in a very short period of time demonstrates the talents of our guardsmen in delivering critical training to our airmen.” said Cochran, the vice chairman of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
The Air Force has already decided to locate four C-27J aircraft at Key Field. These aircraft are scheduled to arrive in early FY2012. The proposed training unit would entail an additional two aircraft being assigned to the base. The C-27J is a twin turbo-prop engine aircraft that provides short take-off and landing capabilities that are best suited for the transport of cargo among intra-theater locales.
Air Force site surveys in Mississippi and Ohio are expected to occur between now and December, at which point a preferred alternative location should be announced. Following an environmental impact analysis, a final decision should be made in mid to late 2011, with the training unit fully deployed in 2013.
The Key Field Air National Guard Station is currently home to the 186th Air Refueling Wing. In its 2005 BRAC Recommendations, the Department of Defense decided that by 2012, it would move the 186th Air Refueling Wing’s KC-135R aircraft to Wisconsin, Tennessee and Maine, leaving Key Field without a clear mission for the future. In addition to the four C-27Js scheduled for delivery to Key Field next year, securing two more C-27J training aircraft at Key Field would ensure a robust mission into the future.