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Latest C-5 flies into budget storm

First upgraded 'A' airborne as cost increases raise spectre of restructuring, but Lockheed insists targets are met

Lockheed Martin has begun flight testing the first C-5A transport to be modernised and re-engined to C-5M Super Galaxy standard as the threat of restructuring hangs over the programme because of rising costs. The aircraft joins two C-5Ms already in flight test that have been upgraded from newer C-5Bs under the reliability enhancement and re-engining programme (RERP).

US Air Force leaders acknowledged unit-cost growth on the RERP upgrade earlier this year, and indicated the programme may have to be restructured - possibly by eliminating re-engining of the earlier C-5As.

But Lockheed does not believe the programme has breached cost-growth limits. "We are meeting with the air force to understand and reconcile the differences between our numbers," says Jim Grant, director, business strategy, US government programmes. The average price of the upgrade is $82 million, he says.

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C-5Ms in tests have been re-engined

Grant says the three flight-test C-5Ms are already meeting the key performance parameters of the reliability-improvement programme. "They are flying back-to-back days and that is the challenge on the C-5 - hitting the next sortie," he says.

RERP involves 70 system improvements including re- engining with General Electric CF6-80C2 turbofans, and follows from the avionics modernisation programme that all C-5A/Bs are scheduled to undergo. Grant says there is no difference between a C-5M upgraded from an A model and one that has been modernised from a later B.

There was cost growth early in the programme because of "challenges with the [engine] pylon and wiring", says Grant. "We fixed them, but it took more time than we expected. We now have good designs that we are checking during airworthiness flight testing."

The USAF wants to begin putting the remaining 48 C-5Bs through the RERP in 2008, but does not plan to decide whether to re-engine the C-5As until after it completes flight testing. "The air force does not need to make a decision on the As until 2011-12," says Grant. Boeing is lobbying the USAF to cancel the C-5A RERP and buy more C-17s, but needs a decision this year to keep its production line open beyond mid-2009.

The USAF leadership remains to be convinced that C-5As put through the RERP will meet the service's reliability requirements. "We fully expect the air force will upgrade the As," says Grant, adding: "We are confident we can meet the reliability goal, and that we can execute within the budget as it is at the moment."

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