Four KC-135 Stratotankers and more than two hundred active duty U.S. Air Force personnel will join the Alaska Air National Guard’s 168th Wing, Guardians of the Last Frontier, to provide aerial refueling capability for the United States Air Force in the Arctic region and around the world. Acting Secretary of the Air Force John P. Roth approved Eielson Air Force Base as the preferred location to redistribute four active duty KC-135 aircraft to the Air National Guard from a mix of active duty locations, March 18. The aircraft are expected to arrive in 2023.
“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 Saxe, adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard and commissioner for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “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 Alaska Air National Guard’s 168th Wing at Eielson AFB is the only Arctic region air refueling unit in the United States, and their squadron of eight tankers transfers more fuel than any other Air National Guard tanker wing. Most aircraft they refuel are active duty assets, many of which are on federal operational missions. They also provide aerial refueling support to military aircraft for training missions and in support of exercises. The expansion of the tanker force in Alaska supports the 2019 Department of Defense Arctic Strategy by addressing the new and emerging threats in the Asia-Pacific region.
According to a USAF press release, the 2019 DoD Arctic Strategy outlines the department’s role and efforts to optimize Air and Space Force capabilities throughout the region in support of the National Defense Strategy by defending the homeland, competing when necessary to maintain favorable regional balances of power, and ensuring common domains remain free and open.