US Senators raise alarms over more C-17 add-ons

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Two US Senators are concerned that fellow legislators on the appropriations committee are likely to add funding to buy more Boeing C-17s, despite strong opposition from the Obama administration.

Arizona Senator John McCain and Delaware Senator Thomas Carper took the unusual step of organising a hearing outside the normal appropriations process on 14 July specifically to question the affordability of adding even more C-17s to the US Air Force strategic airlift fleet.

Congress has inserted about $10 billion to add 43 C-17s to military budgets since 2007, when the Bush administration originally attempted to shut down the production line in Long Beach, California.

The Obama administration adopted the same policy, but was ignored by legislators who in 2009 voted to add 18 more C-17s in two separate spending bills, raising the USAF's total fleet of the type to 223 aircraft.

 © USAF

So far, the four committees that administer the defence appropriations process have not added funds for more C-17s this year, but that could still change, McCain says.

He cites the strong possibility that fellow senators on the appropriations committee may add funds for C-17s as the reason for the 14 July hearing, which was hosted by Carper's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee.

"Let's be clear: the only thing sustaining the C-17 programme in the face of a military requirement that is and will likely remain satisfied is the predominance of the military-industrial complex," McCain says. "These machinations should end."

Although the USAF has not asked for additional funds, the Air National Guard has published a list of unfunded priorities that include a need for five more C-17s worth $1.3 billion.

USAF officials at the hearing testified that the strategic airlift fleet is over capacity by 10%. That analysis drove the decision to stop C-17 production after 2012 and retire 22 of the least reliable Lockheed Martin C-5As, they say.

Boeing is working to keep production alive by slowing the rate of deliveries from 15 last year to 10 in 2012, while maintaining current prices. The company also is pursuing more foreign sales opportunities, including a potential order in India for 10 aircraft.