“The Dumbest Weapons Decision of the Decade”

Defense Industry Daily has the scoop on a no-holds-barred report from the Lexington Institute on the USAF’s effort to end the production of C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

c-17.jpgDID rightly points out that the Air Force is working to increase the availability and the lifespan of the C-5 fleet and that a new tanker decision will likely add a new aircraft that can moonlight as a cargo transport, but the fact is that the C-17 fleet is getting far, far more work than expected and that it will continue for as long as we can tell.

The Lexington report puts it this way:

Policymakers have decided to stop building the plane. They say they have enough C-17’s to meet strategic airlift needs for the foreseeable future. Even though their stated requirement for how much airlift is needed hasn’t changed since a “Mobility Requirements Study” was conducted in 2000. Perhaps you remember what it was like back then. No global war on terror. No shift to expeditionary warfare. No plans to return troops in Europe to the U.S. No big hurricane evacuations. The good old days….

While Murdoc suspects that “dumbest weapons decision of the decade” might be a bit strong (after all, there are a lot of dumb decisions to pick from…) it is a fact that you can never have enough air transport capacity.

I’d be less skeptical of this decision if the service wasn’t scrambling to pinch pennies everywhere it could to order a couple more F-22 fighters. It certainly appears that Priority #1 in the USAF is to increase the number of F-22s, and while I believe this is a worthwhile goal it shouldn’t come at the expense of everything else.

The transport fleet might not be sexy, but the US military doesn’t win anything anywhere without it. It’s true that, while we don’t need F-22s to fight the current crop of low-tech enemies, we’ll need them against a serious military force if a major war comes. But the C-17 fleet is not only critical in the battles we’re fighting today, it’s vital to simply keep the Air Force running day-to-day.

For more C-17 and an incredible pic, see Masters of the Globe


  1. How’s the old saying go? Something about amateurs talk about weapons and tactics, professionals talk about logistics.

  2. Oh, I knew this was going to happen. The only option is to give the USAF the aircraft it needs and wants rightfully. The F-22A is a neccessity on a far larger scale. The C-17… is not. This is what happens when you mess with programs in production. Force the buyer to choose between one and the other, and everyone suffers.

  3. If you are following the war in Afghanistan and Iraq it is the US that is providing the bulk of logistic transport for our coalition partners. So, not only do we need to think about the needs of the US military but what will be the future needs of our friends. The Danish are a good case in point. They sent troops to Afghanistan but no helicopters to move them around. Wild Bill

  4. There is a program in the works to replace the C-17 with a new airlifter. It will have features the C-17 lacks, at least that’s some of what is going around now. I’m not sure when the pictures will start hitting the news circuits. The big questions are how long will it take, and how much will it cost?

  5. We needed the F-22 a long time ago. That’s evident from all the air to air combat losses we’ve suffered. And the F-117s and B-2’s show up big as battlewagons on the Iraqi air defence radar. We wouldn’t have this problem if the C-17 were made in a many districts as the C-130. A C-17 follow on? Like the CAS follow on for the A-10? Not in your life time, sonny. They’ll be taking 787’s out of civilian service first. The Air Force is brain dead.

  6. Actually, Mrs. Davis is right. When we really need airlift, like the rapid build up during Desert Shield, we just take the airlines’ planes. (I flew to Saudi Arabia on a United 747 – very nice) I suppose we would just take Fedex’s and UPS’transport planes if we really needed cargo lift.

  7. This is just another example of Pentagon politics. The air force wants a F-22 and the rest of the services be damned. Its so nice to have a military that refuses to believe that it exists for the good of the country and not for the grandure of itself. The C-17’s will get picked up by Congress which will ‘force’ the air force to buy more. The funding will come out of the ’emergency’ funding bills. By moving the C-17 off budget, it opens up more procurement funds.

  8. Bram, all shipments of US troops is done by air-carriers. Its just cheaper and more efficient to use aircraft designed to move people. Which soldiers seem to be. FedEx also works well if the US has access to an international airport or airfield capable of handling them. I think 180 C-17s are enough. With programs like Hog-Up keeping aging A-10s in the air, then the same can be done on our C-17s. The USAF is doing this country a great service by standing their ground on the F-22A. We need this aircraft, and to procure less than the needed ammount (~381 aircraft), then they are wasting taxpayer money.

  9. At $225 million, the C-17 has never been a real bargain. Of course, the follow on airplane will probably be worse. What I would like to see is for the Air Force to differentiate between tactical and strategic airlifters and for them to stop padding the price of strategic birds by putting all the tactical features on them. You know, like the million or so tires the C-5 has. Personally I’d like to see the USAF go after a purely strategic cargo airplane to replace the C-17. That’s the role the C-17 has played anyway, why pretend it is tactical? The spin-offs from such a program might be a big boon to companies like FedEx. I really believe that the day is soon coming when passengers will not share an airplane with cargo of any kind including luggage (thanks to the terrorists). A strategic airlifter with commercial applications might help there too. FedEx, when your luggage absolutely, positively has to get there over night.

  10. all shipments of US troops is done by air-carriers’ Might be a little too much of a blanket statement. I have spent some long, unpleasant hours in the back of a C-130. Dfens is right; we need a real strategic airlifter. A plane designed and built with the same price and efficiency considerations used for civilian airliners. There are many reasons that FedEx uses cargo versions of Boeing and older McDonnell Douglas aircraft instead of a civilian version of the C-17 (which I’m sure Boeing would be glad to build for the right price). Looking at Boeing’s web site, it appears that the Navy is has not bought into the C-17. They are buying C-40A Clippers which are really 737-700’s . http://www.boeing.com/defense-space/military/c40/index.html

  11. I figured FedEx used those aircraft because they can operate using current airport terminals. Anyways. I heard a C-17B was in the works, with a longer fuselage, more fuel and slightly uprates engines. Guess that didnt work out then.

  12. One of the problems with military aircraft in civilian roles is the cargo density issue. The military wants their aircraft to haul tanks, but in the civilian world aircraft are mainly used to haul high value, low density cargo like HD TVs and such. Making the cargo box longer (inserting a fuselage plug) helps some, but then the floor structure is still way over designed. You’d think this would be a case where the government would say, we need a strategic airlifter and would be happy to buy one that works in the civilian world too. Bring your prototype to Wright Patterson AFB on or before June of 2010 and we’ll buy 200 of the best one. Cargo hauling is already a big market and with this added incentive, I believe this method of purchasing could easily work. Too bad we are such a haven for socialism, or it might even get a chance.

  13. Dfens – Is that how the Navy started buying the C-40A Clippers? I’m hoping so rather than paying Boeing to re-design a plane they were already selling to civilians.

  14. I’m not sure. I know for a long time the Navy bought C-9’s (DC-9 in the civilian world) from MD. Maybe that had something to do with this purchase, but I don’t know. Now days, pretty much everything the Feds buy, they pay the development costs. In the case of the 737, Boeing already did the airframe development. The DoD probably picked up the tab for any modifications they made. You know like defensive systems and that sort of thing.

  15. I remember way back (70-80’s), that as part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program (CRAF). The air force would award additional fee (subsidy) for those cargo planes upgraded to haul military cargos. Anyone know if we still do that? Seems to me that, such a program is a cheap way to backfill the cargo needs.

  16. Oh yes! CRAF is still on. It is a bit of a two edged sword because they use it to justify their inadequate military airlift.

  17. And congress comes to the rescue ‘The measure [defense bill] also almost triples Bush’s request for eight C-17 cargo planes, providing for 22 of the aircraft, which are built in Long Beach, Calif. Several components are manufactured at Boeing’s St. Louis-based defense company.’