Daily Breeze

June 26, 2003

Air Force may buy Boeing planes

MILITARY: An air mobility study will be conducted to determine how many more C-17 transports will be needed.


WASHINGTON — The commander of the U.S. Transportation Command said Wednesday the Air Force would like to buy at least 42 more C-17 transports by fiscal year 2006.

Air Force Gen. John W. Handy said his command struggled to meet the airlift demands of Operation Iraqi Freedom, showing the need for even more of the planes built by Boeing in Long Beach.

The exact number of C-17s that will be needed could be determined by a new air mobility study and by decisions on the fate of the oldest models of the huge C-5 transports, Handy said.

Handy said the Air Force should decide whether to order more C-17s in the 2006 budget because the C-17 production line at the Long Beach plant soon will begin to wind down under the contract to buy 180 Globemaster IIIs.

But the previous study of military airlift requirements, the experiences of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the role the C-17s played in those operations demonstrate the need for ��-plus C-17s,” he said.

The C-17 requirement produced by the last mobility study was hedged because of the uncertainty over the future of the 76 oldest C-5 Galaxies, which have the lowest mission readiness rate of any major Air Force airplane.

The Air Force plans to modernize its 50 newer C-5Bs, but is debating whether to spend billions of dollars to improve the older “A” models, which are at least 30 years old.

Retiring the older Galaxies would create a need for many more C-17s, which are the only other U.S. transport that can carry so-called “outsized” cargo such as M-1 tanks, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and Patriot missile launchers.

The Air Force’s multiyear contract with Boeing calls for buying 15 new C-17s a year, up to 180. That contract would keep at least some of the 7,000 employees on the C-17 line in Long Beach working until 2008.

Boeing has produced 103 Globemasters for the U.S. Air Force and four that are being leased by Great Britain’s Royal Air Force.

Other U.S. allies are interested in the C-17, particularly after its performance in Iraq, said Gary Lesser, spokesman for the Long Beach operation.

Although the C-17 program was plagued by manufacturing and performance problems early in its production and nearly was canceled, Handy said its performance in the last two conflicts shows “it is an absolutely incredible aircraft that is no longer remotely controversial.”

“The C-17 is the work horse of the (airlift) fleet,” he said.

Although critics claimed that the Air Force would never dare to fly the expensive transport into a combat zone or land it on austere airfields, Handy noted it did both in Afghanistan and Iraq.