New KC-46 Air National Guard Squadron Activates in New Jersey

The Air National Guard stood up a new KC-46 Pegasus tanker squadron at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (JBMDL), N.J. last month, marking the latest step in a yearslong process as the Air Force seeks to replace its aging KC-135 Stratotankers and KC-10 Extenders.

The new unit, the 170th Air Refueling Squadron, activated on March 11, becoming the second KC-46 squadron in the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 108th Wing. The 170th and its sister squadron, the 141st, will share 24 KC-46s with its Active-duty counterparts in the 305th Air Mobility Wing: the 2nd and 32nd Air Refueling Squadrons.

That kind of arrangement, where two Guard or Reserve squadrons share aircraft with two Active-duty squadrons, is called an embedded classic association. 

“The concept is that both the Active-duty and Air National Guard components are essential to mission execution,” said 108th Wing spokesperson Donna Jeffries. “In other words, their aircrew ratios to aircraft combine to equal what is needed.”

Members of the 170th Air Refueling Wing receive their newly designed squadron patch from Lt. Col Matthew Secko, 170th Air Refueling Squadron commander, during the 170th assumption of command ceremony March 7, 2024 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt Anna-kay Ellis)

Through the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress directed the Air Force to divest nine of the 108th Wing’s KC-135R refueling tankers in fiscal year 2023 and to replace two Air Force Reserve Squadrons, the 76th and 78th, with the 141st and the 170th. 

“With the addition of the 170th to the 141st, the ANG will supply the appropriate number of reserve component crews for the 24 KC-46s on the joint base,” Jeffries said. “While losing the KC-135Rs, the 108th Wing has embraced the new Airmen and the new aircraft, as well as the opportunity to partner with active duty to deliver unmatched global reach.”

Many of the reservists from the disbanded squadrons are now part of the 170th, she explained. Not all its crews are qualified on the KC-46, but the new squadron “is moving rapidly towards full mission capability,” she said.

“It is a privilege and an honor to start this squadron,” Lt. Col. Matthew Secko, the 170th’s first commander, said in a press release. “Our first members bring talents and experience to the squadron from many backgrounds, and they will each make a difference.”

A KC-46A Pegasus assigned to the 305th Air Mobility Wing makes its first landing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., on Aug. 18, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aidan Thompson)

The squadron is named after the 170th Air Refueling Group, which used to be stationed at McGuire Air Force Base. Accompanying the new squadron was a new unit patch featuring a knight against a blue, globe-shaped background. The patch was selected from nine submissions during a wing-wide design contest. While the knight does not have a name, “it symbolizes the ancient chivalric traditions of honor and courage,” Jeffries said. 

The Air Force plans to buy about 75 tankers to recapitalize its KC-135 fleet and keep air refueling aircraft in production until the Next-Generation Air Refueling System (NGAS)—a low-observable refueler—arrives in the mid-to-late 2030s. The tanker could be the Boeing KC-46 already in production, or another type, such as the A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport being offered by Airbus.

“These are exciting times,” Col. Eric Guttormsen, 108th Wing commander, said in the release. “I have no doubt our Airmen will serve with character and a great sense of purpose, establishing strong foundations and supporting our forces’ global mobility with excellence.”