JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST — Shovels are in the ground for a massive project that should secure the base's future for quite some time in the center of the Garden State.

Elected and command leaders broke ground Monday on a $146.5 million construction project that will tear down existing buildings and build up infrastructure meant to house 24 next-generation KC-46A Pegasus refueling mid-air tankers starting in 2021.

"The KC-46 is expected to be more suitable for supporting the current national defense strategy by providing more capability against a near-peer adversary," Air Force Major General John Gordy II said at a ceremony attended by hundreds of military personnel, honorees and guests.

The modern tankers will replace the aging KC-10 tankers, currently housed at JBMDL, which are slated for retirement.

Securing the new mission was a years-long battle against other bases' hopes to claim the role. It was announced in 2017 that JBMDL would be one of two locations to receive the KC-46As.

"It deserved to be here," New Jersey U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, who led the effort to secure the mission and federal resources, told New Jersey 101.5 at the event. "It's necessary, ultimately, for the base to continue to be preserved, to promote its mission, to promote our national security, but also to drive New Jersey's economy."

As recently as 2016, officials expressed concern the joint base could be included in a new round of closings.

The project will secure hundreds of construction jobs. The base is currently New Jersey's second largest employer.

"This installation is the ideal location for the new tankers, as it is the nation's only Army-Air Force-Navy joint installation, and is home to over 80 mission partners that include active duty, Reserve and Guard units," said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who was also on hand for the groundbreaking.

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