Yesterday I noted that the Air Force wants to require the next generation of tanker aircraft to do a lot more than just provide in-flight refuelling. Here’s a story that sheds a little more light on the reason for this:
The new chief of the U.S. Transportation Command says that if he must choose between recommending more C-17 cargo planes or seeking new tanker planes that can also haul cargo, he’ll go with new tankers.
That’s an about-face from the stance of the previous chief, who wanted at least 222 of the airlifters. But if current plans stay in place, the Air Force will get only 180.
If the new tankers can also be used to haul cargo, suddenly the Air Force doesn’t need quite so many C-17s, the thinking goes. And if not going for extra C-17s means getting new tankers sooner, it’s worth it, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, head of TransCom, says. But only if the tankers can moonlight as cargo haulers as needed.
I’ve got to admit that I’m more than a bit skeptical of doing too much to “spiff up” tankers, but the capability to easily convert to cargo carrier is reasonable as long as it doesn’t drive the price up too much. It probably won’t.
One other thing I’d caution against is depending too much on too many multi-mission aircraft. Most of the time, this will be fine. But it’s the surges during events like the invasion of Iraq in 2003 that would call for a lot of additional cargo carriers. Unfortunately, that’s also the very time that the in-air refuelling requirements are maxed out. So tankers wouldn’t be available to fly equipment across the water.
Quantity has a quality all its own. Like I’ve mentioned before, lack of quantity can sometimes have a lack of quality all its own, too.