Daily Breeze

April 28, 2006

C-17 planes to get reprieve?
House panel allocates funding for three more of the transports built in Long Beach, but OK required.

By Otto Kreisher
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON -- A House Armed Services Committee panel acted Thursday to extend the life of the C-17 production plant in Long Beach by providing funds for three more of the Air Force transports.

The panel also set a minimum level for Air Force strategic airlift planes at 299, which would require at least seven more C-17s than the Air Force plans to buy.

The action on the C-17 Globemaster III came during the preliminary work on the fiscal year 2007 defense authorization bill by the House Armed Services' Subcommittee on Projection Forces.

The panel's effort to continue buying C-17s beyond the 180 authorized would have to be approved by the full committee next week and by the House some time next month. And then the House's action would have to be ratified by the Senate when it enacts the defense bill.

But the subcommittee's action is one more strong indication that Congress will act to keep the C-17 production going beyond the threatened shutdown in 2008.

President Bush's proposed 2007 defense budget seeks $3.3 billion to buy 12 more C-17s to finish out the authorized buy of 180, plus money to begin shutting down the production line.

In approving its portion of the defense authorization, the Projection Forces panel redirected the $390 million requested for closing the line and added $300 million to the C-17 account with directions to buy three more of the Boeing-built transports.

The panel also directed the Air Force to maintain a minimum of 299 strategic airlift planes. A recently released study of airlift requirements said the expected long-range airlift needs could be met with 180 C-17s and the 112 C-5s, for a total of 292 strategic transports.

Air Force leaders have admitted during congressional hearings that they would like to have seven more C-17s as a hedge against having to retire some of the older Globemaster IIIs because of the unexpectedly high rate at which they are being flown.

But those officials indicated they would like the additional C-17s to be paid for out of the emergency supplemental funding to cover the expenses of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The wartime supplemental is tied up in both congressional chambers because of disagreements over how much to provide and for what.