The Lockheed Martin C-5A Galaxy fleet can be sustained for 25 more years only if the US Air Force invests heavily to install new engines and major avionics upgrades, a new USAF study shows.

A six-month study by the service's Fleet Viability Board (FVB) found the 30-year-old C-5A's airframe "appears sound", but noted the aircraft is historically unreliable and may not reach performance goals even if the modifications are completed. A background paper provided by the air force also notes that the C-5A "lacks certain operational capabilities in the newer C-5B fleet, such as defensive systems that are currently required for Operation Iraqi Freedom".

The board's report affects only the 60 C-5As still in service after 2005, and has no bearing on the USAF's 50 C-5Bs, which received new wings in the late 1980s.

The FVB report was delivered to the Congressional committees on 15 July. Several lawmakers have voiced concerns about a growing shortfall in strategic airlift capability, and have barred the air force from retiring any more C-5As until after a second teardown inspection.

Meanwhile, the board's recommendations will be forwarded to a high-level review of the military's strategic airlift resources. Called the Mobility Capability Study, the Joint Staff-led panel is reassessing the air force's mix of 120 C-5A/Bs and 180 Boeing C-17 Globemasters, including a proposal to add at least 42 more C-17s.

Lockheed Martin says it agrees with the FVB's key finding - heavy upgrades can keep the C-5As flying for several decades. The manufacturer estimates the C-5A's airframe is still relatively young, having used up only 30% of its original service life. C-5A/Bs formed the backbone of the troop and equipment build-up before Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, carrying almost half of the tonnage delivered by air.

But air force leaders have been sceptical about the investment needed to sustain C-5A operations. C-5As were the first target of the FVB, which was created last year by Secretary of the Air Force James Roche.



Source: Flight International