The US Defense Science Board (DSB) has urged the US Air Force to retain the option of buying additional Boeing C-17 airlifters, but has offered alternatives to simply ordering another 42 aircraft as the manufacturer faces a long-lead production crisis next January.

A DSB report completed in September, but only publicly released last week, recommends the air force “keep open the option to acquire additional C-17s beyond the 180 now programmed”. To support this proposal the report cites a likely, but unforeseeable, need for more large airlifters in the near future. However, DSB members acknowledge the burden of supporting a programme that costs about $1 billion for five aircraft and the same amount in life-cycle support costs, and list other options for the USAF to consider.

“Early production aircraft could be turned in to the manufacturer for resale to commercial air freight operations; production of the current model would replace them to maintain the fleet size of 180,” the report says. “Also, if other alternatives are not available, the production line could be preserved and laid away in the same manner as was the [Lockheed] C-5 line, so that production could be restarted some time in the future.”

Those recommendations are at odds with Boeing’s analysis of the USAF’s most cost-effective courses of action. “The most cost-effective option is to continue C-17 production at a steady rate of 15 a year. The most expensive and cost-prohibitive is shutting down the line and restarting it at a later date,” the company says. “All options are possible, but not necessarily cost effective,” it says, adding: “Boeing will be ready to respond to any direction our customer gives us.”

The fate of the C-17 production line has entered the political realm. The US Senate passed a measure in mid-November that would authorise the USAF to sign a multi-year procurement deal or buy up to six aircraft a year, although no funds were obligated (Flight International, 15-21 November).


Source: Flight International