Daily Breeze

March 30, 2006

Push for extra C-17s resumes
Military leaders tell senators of needs, which could prolong 6,000 jobs on Long Beach production line.

By Otto Kreisher
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- Under questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the Air Force's top leaders Wednesday repeated their concerns that the extensive use of C-17s may require the purchase of seven more of the long-range transports than the 180 planned.

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Gen. Michael Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, praised the C-17's performance in support of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and in a number of other global missions.

At stake for Southern California is Boeing's C-17 production line in Long Beach that employs 6,000 workers. Without additional purchases, the factory would shut down by 2008 and the jobs would be cut.

"It is worth its weight in gold," Moseley told Feinstein, D-Calif., noting that "we are using it in ways that we never used a strategic airlifter before."

Because of their ability to operate from smaller airfields, the C-17s are being used for missions that normally would be assigned to the smaller C-130s, he said.

But Moseley and Wynne said that has resulted in a greater wear on the C-17s, leading to the concern that some of them might have to be replaced earlier than expected.

That is the reason the two leaders said they put the purchase of seven extra C-17s at the top of their list of unfunded requirements, which is considered an appeal for extra money from Congress.

The two officials also pleaded with the senators for relief from legislation that prevents them from retiring nearly 300 of their oldest aircraft.

The list of planes the officials indicated they would like to retire include 35 of the 112 C-5 transports. At previous congressional hearings, Air Force officials have said that if they could get rid of the oldest C-5s, which have become very unreliable and expense to support, they would buy more C-17s.

Moseley reinforced that view by noting that a recently released study of mobility requirements said that a fleet of 180 C-17s and 112 C-5s would provide adequate long-range airlift. Then he noted the congressional restrictions on retiring the oldest C-5s.

But the two Air Force leaders also repeated their view that buying a new fleet of tankers was more important than adding C-17s. Wynne said he hoped to seek bids from industry by June for a new aircraft that could do both in-flight refueling and cargo missions.

Several members of the subcommittee joined Feinstein in supporting more C-17s, although the chairman, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, did not offer to provide the additional funds needed to buy more of the Boeing jets.