Air Force Secretary: Runway Upgrades to Support 185th 'Moving Forward'

A KC-135 Stratotanker from the 185th Air Refueling Wing is parked at the Sioux City Gateway Airport
A KC-135 Stratotanker from the 185th Air Refueling Wing is parked on the ramp at the Sioux City Gateway Airport, Sioux City Iowa, May 7 2023. (Daniel Ter Haar/U.S. Air National Guard)

WASHINGTON — Preliminary work has begun for major upgrades deemed essential for the 185th Air Refueling Wing to continue flying tankers at Sioux Gateway Airport, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

"We have started the architectural engineering activities associated with three projects at the airfield," Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "We are moving forward with those upgrades."

Responding to questions from Sen. Joni Ernst, R- Iowa, Kendall said the projects include $45 million to replace the main runway, $47 million to extend the runway and $45 million to replace the deteriorating parking apron.

Due to weight limitations for the Sioux City runway, the 185th's KC-135 Stratotankers can not take off with a full load of fuel. The base is operating on a Federal Aviation Administration waiver that would expire in 2027, once added lifespan of the 2022 repairs to the main runway runs out.

Since last year, Ernst has pushed the Air Force to fulfill promises the agency made to the Iowa Air National Guard base after it switched from flying F-16 fighter tanks to refueling aircraft in 2003. The committment to upgrade the airport infrastructure to support the weight and size of the heavy tankers was mothballed in the midst of the War on Terror, as the military prioritized other projects.

At Tuesday's hearing, Ernst pushed Kendall to commit to the 185th's mission continuing in Sioux City after the Air Force replaces the KC-135s with the more modern KC-46 tankers.

"I'm not aware of any changes that would occur," Kendall responded.

Ernst also pressed Kendall for a timeline for completing the airport improvements. The secretary told the senator he would provide dates after the hearing, but stressed the projects are early in the process.

"We've got such a great unit in the 185th," said Ernst, who served in the Iowa National Guard. "They have been so engaged around the globe. We want to make sure they're taken care of."

The hearing came a day before the start of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce's annual lobbying trip to the nation's capitol. Among other issues, local leaders will push federal policy makers to fund the $185 million in upgrades required to keep the 185th in Sioux City.

Dave Dreeszen is the managing editor for the Sioux City Journal.

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