Friday, August 25, 2006

Globemaster III wind-down

Last Friday Boeing announced C-17 Globemaster III production will end in 2009 unless more orders are received. At that point 180 will have been delivered to the USAF, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard. Another five will belong to the RAF while the RCAF and RAAF will operate four each. There are tentative orders from NATO and Sweden for four and two respectively but nothing firm as of yet.

Boeing has ordered, using company money, enough parts to build ten more airplanes beyond what is on order because some parts require a 34 month lead time to produce. Boeing is hoping Congress will come through and order more airplanes to save all the jobs involved in C-17 production, there are suppliers and builders in 42 states. Sen. Diane Feinstein [D-CA] is vowing to keep the Long Beach, CA plant open and employing 5,500 workers to produce twelve more C-17s. Other members of California's Congressional delegation are also vowing to fight to keep the production line open. Since Boeing closed down the 717 production line last year, the Long Beach C-17 production line is the last left in California.

What is interesting is the Air Force's own words on why production is stopping at 180 airframes or as AMC calls thems, tails. They cite the need to focus on procuring new tankers for the global Air Force mission. The Boeing KC-135 tanker family has been in the inventory since Eisenhower and used hard; first supporting the airborne alert nuclear bomber fleet, then being loaned to TAC for VietNam duty, normal training missions, exercises, Grenada, Panama, Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Deny Flight, Southern Watch, Northern Watch, and now Afghanistan and Iraq. Even with the upgrade to KC-135R standard the average age of the tanker fleet is now 45 years. During Reagan's build-up a small force of KC-10 Extenders were added to the fleet but not enough to truly supplement the far more numerous KC-135 fleet. For the past six years, the USAF with Congressional oversight, and some micromanagement, has sought a new tanker. At first the guidance from Congress was to focus on leasing tankers so the Air Force soon was asking Boeing about a fleet of 100 767 tankers. Then fickle Congress, with the likes of Sen. McCain[R-AZ], intervened and suddenly all of the Air Force plans were thrown into disarray to be compounded by screw-ups inside the Air Force office tasked with leasing the tankers. In the last year it looked like the front contender had become an Airbus tanker derivative of the A330.

And with talk on Capitol Hill of cutting the military budget to meet obligations in fighting the battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Air Force is finding it's funds under threat. So the hoped for follow-on order of 40 more C-17s is being abandoned to meet more urgent needs of the Air Force. So for Sen. Feinstein and other members of the California delegation to castigate the White House and Dept. of Defense for being fickle is so much hot air to cover their own culpability in the current crisis.

To all members of Congress, vote the funds all military branches need to protect the United States and to finish the fight. Do not be penny wise and pound foolish for all the lives of American citizens depends upon the United States military to be the shield to protect them from tyranny, foreign and domestic.


Mike's America said...

There's nothing more important than maintaining an immense airlift capability.

I don't know if the Air Force is satisfied it can meet their current requirements with 180 Globemaster III's but I hope too that they are looking far enough ahead.

I'd rather err on the side of having too many, than too few.

Anna said...

I hear you Mike. But it was orignally planned to buy only 180 C-17s. Then there was talk about adding another 40 to the production run. This would have meant more Air Guard units receiving brand new C-17s to replace aged C-141Cs and even C-5As. But it looks like it won't happen now. Unless Congress intervenes, again.

With all the rumblings of cutbacks in a military force that is in the middle of two battles, the services are trying to survive. And since the KC-135 fleet is of the same vintage as the retiring C-141 Starlifters, the USAF is focusing on getting some new tankers with their limited funding.
Sad commentary but what else is the USAF supposed to do. C-17s cant deliver unless there are tankers there to fuel them. Unless we want to reactivate places like Lajes.