November 30, 2005

Long Beach officials 'optimistic' on more C-17 production
Congresswoman and Long Beach politicians visit Pentagon to promote production of the transport.

By Otto Kreisher
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald said a meeting in the Pentagon on Tuesday left her "cautiously optimistic" about continued production of the C-17, although Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne could not assure that his service would buy more than the 180 jet transports authorized.

Millender-McDonald, D-Carson, and three Long Beach city officials said Wynne appreciated the value of the Boeing-built transport and recognized the economic harm of stopping the C-17 line, which employs more than 6,000 workers in Long Beach.

But a recently completed Pentagon study concluded that only 180 C-17s were needed to meet the military's requirement for long-range air transportation of cargo. A similar study before the start of the global war on terrorism concluded that at least 222 of the four-jet transports were needed.

Navy Adm. Edmund Giambastiani, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Pentagon reporters earlier this month that "we have sufficient airlift if we stay on a funded program that we currently have."

Without an increase in the authorized buy, the C-17 production line would begin to shut down next year and close completely in 2008, Boeing officials have said.

Asked what Wynne said that made her optimistic, Millender- McDonald said, "I do not want to misrepresent the secretary... but I do feel very good about what he said."

Wynne "understands the importance of the C-17," she said. "He understands that the C-17 works better in combat areas than any other plane. He also understands the need to continue that kind of military might, given the war we're in."

She said Wynne, who assumed his Air Force office recently after serving as the Pentagon's top acquisition official, spoke about the condition of the existing cargo transports, "many of which are outdated and are going to be retired... And he knows that he must have some aircraft that are durable and reliable, and the C-17 is that."

Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neil, who is president of the National Council of Mayors, said she emphasized to Wynne the national effect of C-17 production, which employs about 30,000 workers at 500 other companies in California and at 200 firms in 41 other states.

And she warned that if C-17 production is stopped, "that valuable talent would be lost."

Long Beach Council members Frank Colonna and Tonia Reyes Uranga also stressed the potential loss of the well-trained work force at the Long Beach plant if C-17 production is stopped.

"Secretary Wynne was very complimentary; he acknowledged the contributions of the work force in Long Beach," Reyes Uranga said.

The C-17 had a difficult beginning and was nearly canceled because of huge cost overruns and extensive production problems. But the plane, called the Globemaster III, has proven itself in multiple combat and humanitarian operations in the past decade.

The transport can carry large and heavy military equipment and can land on short and crude airfields that would be unusable by other large transports.

The recently retired commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, Air Force Gen. John Handy, had repeatedly argued for at least 222 Globemasters.

The Senate voted 89-9 to authorize 42 additional C-17s in its versions of the 2006 defense authorization bill. But the final version of that bill has not become law.

President Bush's fiscal year 2006 defense budget requested $2.8 billion to buy 15 more C-17s, which would complete the multiyear agreement to buy 180.