How many more C-17s does the US Air Force need?
Let's ask Loren Thompson, a well-known and frequently quoted analyst with the Lexington Institute.
In March 2009, Thompson wrote an issue brief, titled, "The Military Needs Many More C-17 Airlifters", a well-reasoned defense of Boeing's case for adding more C-17s to the budget.
Today, Thompson swtiches sides, publishing a new brief, titled, "Gates Is Right: The Air Force Has Enough C-17s, Other Needs Are More Urgent".
Which Loren Thompson is correct? Thompson09? Or Thompson10?
I'll let them argue against each other, and let you decide.
"The C-17 will be the backbone of the airlift fleet for decades to come, and 205 isn't nearly enough to cover the world," Thompson09 says.
Nonsense, writes Thompson10.
"The simple truth is that it looks like the Air Force will soon have all the long-range airlift it needs," Thompson10 argues.
Thompson09 and Thompson10 also disagree about the reliability of the Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy, and whether an $11 billion upgrade program will address those shortfalls.
Thompson09 writes that the C-5 has "suffered from chronic readiness problems that will only be partly fixed by providing planes with new engines and electronics".
According to Thompson10, however, Thompson09 is wrong.
"Tests of an upgraded C-5M configuration have demonstrated that the Galaxy can be greatly enhanced at a fraction of the cost of buying new C-17s," Thompson10 writes.
Thompson10 also believes the role of the C-17 is shrinking with the demise of the Future Combat System and new plans to forward-base theater missile defenses.
But Thompson10 fails to consider a variety of non-traditional mission areas that are ideally suited for the C-17, Thompson09 argues.
"With ground forces growing and global roles proliferating, the list of emerging missions gets quite long, many of them requiring a plane that can land in remote, rugged locations," Thompson09 writes.