The US Air Force has secured $18 million in long lead funding to begin work on re-engining the Lockheed Martin C-5A/B Galaxy, as the Air Mobility Command (AMC) prepares to conclude a critical study of its future heavylift transport options.

Congress has approved initial funding in the new fiscal year 2000 budget for the C-5 Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Programme. The funding will enable the air force's preferred sole contractor Lockheed Martin to begin design of a new engine pylon for the airlifter.

The size and scope of the programme is subject to uncertainty as the air force has still to finalise an acquisition strategy. It was due to have been unveiled in September, but has been delayed until after the completion of an on-going AMC analysis of alternatives which is expected to be wrapped up by early December, says an air force official.

The "outsize and oversize" study is focused on examining all the different available options for moving equipment, while a separate Department of Defense study is tasked with examining its future transport requirements.

At issue is the affordable mix of re-engined C-5s and additional Boeing C-17s. Alternatives range from modernising all 126 C-5s in the air force inventory, through doing only the 50 newer C-5Bs, to re-engining none of the aircraft and ordering more C-17s. In the defence bill, Congress included approval for the air force to negotiate a third batch of up 60 C-17s, provided the aircraft are 25% cheaper than the $198 million paid for second-batch C-17s.

"The favourite at the moment is to re-engine the whole fleet," says a senior air force officer, with the cost of the programme estimated at $5.6 billion. Restricting the re-engining to the C-5Bs will entail either retiring the 76 C-5As or trying to run the aircraft on at increasing cost. Aircraft availability across the fleet is averaging 60%, with each C-5 operating for around 40h a month. A plan being considered to transfer more of the transports to the reserves will reduce the total.

Lockheed Martin has delayed issuing a formal request for proposals to November and instead plans to issue a second draft. Rival engines are the General Electric CF6-80C2, Pratt & Whitney PW4168, Rolls Royce Trent 500 and RB211-535.

Source: Flight International