Congress offers funding for 10 extra of the long-range
transport craft, but planes for refueling are top priority.
WASHINGTON -- Air Force officials thanked Congress Wednesday
for providing funds for 10 more C-17s than the
administration had requested, but insist that they would
prefer to buy a new airborne tanker that can carry cargo
rather than more of the long-range transports.
Boeing officials said they are working on a number of
programs that could keep C-17 production in Long Beach going
for years past the 2009 closure. But they conceded that they
have no firm customers for those new versions of the plane,
also known as the Globemaster III.
Those views emerged in a series of presentations and news
conferences earlier this week at an Air Force Association
conference. The gathering convened three days after Congress
added money to the 2007 defense funding bill to buy 10
C-17s, in addition to the 12 the Pentagon had requested to
complete the planned purchase of 180.
Refueling planes are dated
Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne and Gen. T. Michael
Moseley, the Air Force chief of staff, opened a news
conference by thanking Congress for the extra C-17s. Wynne
noted that the existing four-engine transports were being
used at an exceptionally high rate because of the global war
on terror and a number of humanitarian missions worldwide.
But when asked if they would like even more, Moseley
reminded reporters that "we have often said that the better
air mobility platform is the new tanker."
That was a reference to the Air Force's long-standing
effort to start buying a modern aircraft to replace the
KC-135 air refueling planes, some of which are 50 years old.
While noting that the long-range airlift situation can
change quickly, on balance "we probably would prefer to have
more tankers, and sooner," Moseley said.
The Air Force on Monday issued a preliminary document
indicating what it wanted in a new air refueling plane. That
will allow the two likely competitors -- Boeing and a team
of Northrop Grumman and the European-based Airbus -- to
begin drafting their proposals.
Commercial C-17 proposed
Boeing has been proposing a modified version of its 767
airliner. But Boeing officials said they might offer instead
the newer and bigger 777. Their rivals are expected to offer
a modified Airbus 330.
Also at the AFA conference, John Sams, Boeing's vice
president for Air Force programs, held out hope that the
service would buy more than 190 C-17s. The company also has
firm or expected orders for 15 more for U.S. allies, and
Sams indicated there may be a few more such international
Sams said Boeing also is pushing plans for a commercial
version of the C-17. He said the company believes there is a
market for 30-50 of the transports, which he said could be
used to haul heavy oil-production equipment to remote
locations or by commercial entities to conduct Air Force
He also described a proposal for a new military version,
called the C-17B, which would be able to land in small,
Fate of Long Beach
Plans for any new version of the C-17 could be affected
by Boeing's decision in August to tell its suppliers to stop
producing parts for future C-17s and the expectation that
the Long Beach plant would have to shut down by late 2009 or
early 2010 without additional orders.
Also at the AFA conference, Gen. Duncan J. McNabb,
commander of the Air Mobility Command, praised the C-17's
performance in support of the global war on terrorism.
"The C-17 has completely changed the way we do airlift,"
McNabb said, because the Globemasters can fly heavy or
oversize cargo across the oceans and then deliver it to
crude airfields in the combat theater, blending the
strategic and tactical airlift missions.