Though wearing full USAF markings, the C-17A on show at Berlin may represent the future for NATO’s planned joint airlift force. The aircraft, 96-0006, was named ‘Spirit of Berlin’ by then-President Bill Clinton on 14 May 1998 – the fiftieth anniversary of the Berlin Airlift.

Now as ILA salutes the 60th anniversary of the airlift, most NATO nations no longer have their own heavy airlift capability and have to rely on US assistance, or on the charter of Russian Antonov An-124s and IL-76s. Earlier this month, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified the US Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale of two C-17As to be operated by a NATO Airlift Management Organization, at a cost of $700 m. Such a sale would partly address the alliance’s stated requirement for eight “C-17 equivalents” to rapidly deploy force elements, including the NATO Response Force, around the world, but is smaller than the predicted order, which was expected to be for three or even four aircraft.

The procurement of C-17s will increase interoperability with the US Air Force (and RAF) airlift fleets.

With deliveries to Australia, Canada (four aircraft each) and the UK (six aircraft) complete, Boeing urgently needs further orders if it is to avoid closing the C-17 production line, even if (as is widely expected) the USAF orders 15 more using funding from emergency supplemental appropriations, and even if a rumoured order for two aircraft from Qatar materialises. It has been suggested that without a substantial additional C-17 order, NATO could ‘miss the boat’ – with Qatar and the USAF taking all of the aircraft for which production slots have been booked, and with NATO’s two aircraft order being insufficient to stretch the line further.


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Source: Flight Daily News