Manufacturer’s proposal would freeze airlifter order at 180 aircraft, but stretch production through FY09

With prospects for a follow-on US Air Force order for Boeing C-17 transports rapidly diminishing, the manufacturer has laid out a new strategy to obtain an at least partial reprieve for its heavy airlifter programme. The company’s supply chain will begin to shut down within the next 60 days and its production line will cease operations by the end of fiscal year 2008, as the air force does not plan to buy more than the 180 C-17s already on order.


Boeing executives have for several months pressured Congress and the Pentagon to award a third multi-year procurement deal, with former USAF airlift commander Gen John Handy among those supporting its lobbying efforts. However, the air force leadership – secretary Michael Wynne and chief of staff Gen Michael Moseley – says their current planned airlift fleet will be sufficient. This will primarily comprise 180 C-17s, 112 upgraded Lockheed Martin C-5s and 550 Lockheed C-130s.

The C-5 upgrade is one key to the air force’s future airlift strategy, with Lockheed in the development stage of replacing the type’s avionics with a glass cockpit and also re-engining the Galaxy. The modernisation programme is not scheduled to enter production until FY09; roughly one year after the C-17 line will close. Boeing’s new argument seizes on this gap, citing an analogy with the air force’s new plan to extend Lockheed F-22A Raptor production by four years until 2012 to close the gap between the last year of F-22 manufacturing and the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s (JSF) entry into service in FY13.

Boeing’s proposed new model would involve keeping the order for 180 C-17s intact, but stretching production by at least one year, reducing the rate and pushing back deliveries until the modernised C-5 has been fully tested.

While Boeing’s argument could find sympathisers in Congress, it is already clear that the USAF leadership is opposed. Moseley argued last December that there should be no connection between the decision to stretch F-22 production and the airlifter debate.

The F-22 represents the nation’s only fighter aircraft production programme until the JSF enters service, he says, while Boeing currently builds other cargo aircraft besides the C-17.“I think [Moseley’s case] is a very specious argument,” says George Muellner, Boeing’s vice-president for air force systems. “There is a world of difference between a transport operating from austere locations and handling outsize cargo and a commercial aircraft.”


Source: Flight International