Boeing has targeted the Asia-Pacific market as it seeks a variety of creative ways to continue extending C-17 production after the last aircraft now on order is delivered in September 2012.
With Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea among potential buyers, Boeing has proposed establishing a consortium modelled on the joint acquisition of two C-17s by NATO and Sweden, which share the aircraft based at Papa air base in Hungary.
The concept could prove more challenging in Asia, where a similar attempt by the Airbus A400M programme ended in failure. Tom Dunehew, Boeing vice-president of business development, acknowledged that Asia lacks a central organisation comparable to NATO.
Boeing also is seeking to adapt the C-17 to perform roles besides strategic and tactical airlift, Dunehew says. The company has studied options that include adding a surveillance suite for maritime patrol, or integrating refuelling pods to also serve as a tanker, he says.
The C-17 production programme has continued despite losing US Air Force funding support in the 2007 budget. Congress has added funds to the Department of Defense budget, and a host of foreign governments have placed orders.
In 2009 Congress added 18 C-17s in two separate bills, allowing Boeing to extend production by more than a year. Meanwhile, India has selected the C-17, and a contract could soon follow for 10 aircraft.
Dunehew declined to directly answer whether Congress could contribute more funding for C-17s in fiscal year 2011.
"I couldn't predict that," he said. "We have strong Congressional support."
The C-17's current orders and commitments should extend the production line for 3.5 years, or to mid-2013, says Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Military Aircraft. That timeframe should allow Boeing to bridge to a next-generation system, he adds.
Dunehew says a next-generation option is less likely to involve a new-start development programme for an all-new aircraft. More likely, he says, the USAF could place orders for an enhanced version of the C-17, such as Boeing's proposed B-model that adds a centreline landing gear and blown flaps.
Source: Flight International