Canada officially has plans to purchase a fifth Boeing C-17 strategic airlifter, a move that will extend the overall service life of the fleet by at least seven years.
The announcement was made on 19 December by Canadian Defence Minister Rob Nicholson during a visit to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ontario.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that the C-17 fleet has revolutionised the way that Canadian forces operate,” Nicholson says. “Without these aircraft, we would be force to contract airlift services or hitch rides with our allies. Instead we are in a position to help our allies when required.”
The purchase will wipe another C-17 off the books of manufacturer Boeing, which has 10 on the production line that will be closed in 2015. A Boeing spokeswoman says two have been spoken for, leaving eight white tails up for grabs.
Nicholson said other allied nations are looking to “augment their existing fleets” and named Australia specifically as being in the market.
Canada designates the four-engine long-range cargo aircraft as a CC-177 Globemaster III. The Royal Canadian Air Force already has four C-17As, according to Flightglobal’s World Air Forces 2014 directory.
Nicholson says the C-17 are a “key component of our Royal Canadian Air Force, which is why I am pleased to announce that the government of Canada is procuring a fifth.”
The purchase will “significantly augment the flexibility of the Canadian Armed Forces strategic airlift”, he says.
Canada acquired four C-17As in 2007 as part of a massive investment in mobility systems, including Boeing CH-47s and Lockheed Martin C-130Js. Small fleets of strategic airlifters are often considered disproportionately burdensome to support, but Canadian officials argued at the time that participation in Boeing's global sustainment programme for the C-17 would offset those costs.
However, the Air Force Association of Canada argued in a position paper last year the country should buy at least one more C-17A. Boeing requires all C-17s in the sustainment programme to receive a heavy maintenance check lasting up to five months every five years. As a result, all four C-17As delivered to Canada over two years would be required to undergo overlapping maintenance checks. Adding a fifth C-17 to the fleet could offset the loss of aircraft availability during the heavy maintenance period, the association wrote.
In 2013, Canada’s existing fleet of C-17s conducted 48 flights and transported 1.59 million kilograms (3.5 million pounds) of cargo to Mali in support of the French military campaign there. They have also been used to support Operation Impact, Canada’s contribution to the international coalition fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria.
The fleet also will soon embark on its seasonal mission called Operation Santa Claus, the nation’s effort to send holiday care packages to Canadian troops serving overseas.