The US Air Force has adopted a new mobility strategy that rejects an extension of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster production line beyond 2008 and negates Boeing’s preferred offering for a large tanker contract in 2006.

The USAF strategy supports current plans that call for capping the C-17 fleet at 180 aircraft, re-engining and upgrading all 112 Lockheed Martin C-5A/Bs and maintaining 500 Lockheed C-130s. Further support would be provided by an expanded Civil Reserve Air Fleet and a new requirement for a dual-role tanker fleet that can also be used to haul cargo.

“That’s enough of the air piece of the airlift equation for moving bulk things to a theatre,” says USAF chief of staff Gen Michael Moseley. “I still think there will be prepositioned munitions and prepositioned stockpiles of things like we have in Kuwait, Oman and Qatar. I still think the fast sealift that the army and the navy and US Transportation Command have is an incredible capability.”

Both decisions on the C-17 production line ending and the shift to a dual-role tanker appear to be serious blows for Boeing. The manufacturer has been pressing the US government to act quickly to order more C-17s before long-lead items on the production line start closing down in the first quarter of 2006.

As late as September, Boeing executives said the company’s $1 billion investment in the 767-200 tanker design should be the air force’s preferred option for a 100-aircraft tanker replacement acquisition expected to be launched next year. However, the USAF’s shift to a dual-role tanker strategy may force the manufacturer to shift to a 777 freighter version, which may require a new upfront investment to design a tanker variant.

Meanwhile, the Australian government has confirmed it is actively studying requirements for the acquisition of a heavy airlifter as part of the revised 10-year capability plan now under development.

Additional reporting by PETER LA FRANCHI in Washington DC

Source: Flight International