Robins likely out of race for MC-12W

Beale Air Force Base in California has been chosen as the Air Force’s “preferred location” for the MC-12W program, according to a Thursday afternoon Air Force news release.

Robins Air Force Base had been one of six finalists for the program. In the unlikely event that Beale is not ultimately approved to support the Air Force’s 37 MC-12W aircraft, Robins has been designated as one of two possible alternative bases for the program.

The MC-12W is a small, twin-engine, intelligence gathering aircraft. The Air Force already has sent 30 of its MC-12W aircraft to the U.S. Central Command’s area of operations, which includes Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Beale Air Force Base is the preferred alternative for basing the MC-12W aircraft given its access to training opportunities, synergy with existing Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance flying missions, and collocation with the Distributed Ground Station mission,” said Kathleen Ferguson, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, in the news release.

A spokesman for Robins declined to comment on the Air Force’s decision.

Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., was told Thursday morning that Robins was not selected for the program by Gen. Carrol H. “Howie” Chandler, the Air Force’s vice chief of staff. Chandler told Marshall that the Air Force was looking to send the MC-12W aircraft near operational Air Force intelligence units. “Howie was very complimentary of the base, of the community ... and said that an awful lot of military judgment was applied to the decision,” Marshall said in a phone interview from his Washington, D.C., office.

Robins and Beale competed with Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Key Field Air Guard Station in Mississippi, Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri for the program.

Whiteman is the other alternative installation if the MC-12W aircraft are not ultimately sent to California.

Robins officials and Warner Robins community leaders had rallied behind the effort to attract the program, which would have added about 700 additional personnel to the base.

The effort appeared to be showing promise last month. An Air Force evaluation toured Robins in June and told base officials that the installation cleared all of the necessary requirements to support the program.

“It is very disappointing,” said Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen upon learning of the Air Force’s decision. “I know a lot of people worked very hard to provide the resources for them to come here.”

The announcement of the preferred location comes earlier than expected. Jim Herrman, the Air Force’s MC-12W evaluation team chief, had said last month that he expected to have “a pretty good indication around the end of August” of who would win the program.

According to a schedule released this year, Air Force Secretary Mike Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz will decide where the MC-12W aircraft will be based in spring 2011.

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.