Britain Adds to Its C-17 fleet
In 2000 the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a 7-year ‘lease-and-support’ agreement with Boeing and the United States Air Force for the use of 4 Boeing C-17 Globemaster IIIs (3 + 1 “active reserve”) for the period 2001 – 2007, with an option for a possible extension to 9 years. Although it has the ability to operate from unprepared strips, the RAF uses the C-17 as a strategic transport aircraft to established bases, especially those that are far from Britain. The C-17 made its RAF operational debut during the Afghanistan conflict in 2001.
Front line needs soon had the C-17 fleet in high demand, and a combination of an aging C-130K Hercules force and delays to Britain’s
25 22 planned A400M transports stretched the RAF’s transport fleet even more. Instead of extending the C-17 lease, therefore, a deal struck with Boeing in 2006 saw the UK buy all 4 aircraft outright, and add a 5th aircraft to the RAF’s C-17 fleet at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Since then, the fleet has kept on growing. A 6th C-17 was ordered in 2007, a 7th was ordered in 2009, and #8 was ordered and delivered in 2012.
Contracts & Key Events
2012 – 2013
#8 ordered and delivered; Does Britain want a 9th?
Nov 24/13: +1 more? Defense News reports that the UK MoD is set to discuss buying a 9th C-17, which would bring the country very close to its original goal of 10. Events in Mali and the Philippines have stretched the RAF’s C-17s, which are also badly needed for the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Boeing has set aside 13 “no order yet” C-17s to be produced by the end of 2015, when its line will close. Boeing Defense VP Middle East and Africa, Paul Oliver, has said that the 13 are “earmarked for 3 [potential] customers,” and the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait are all reported to want more. India has also made noises about expanding its order, but is unlikely to make decisions quickly enough to be a factor. So there’s a bit of gamesmanship when Oliver says that he’s “concerned about which customer is going to get left out in the cold,” but also some underlying truth. Sources: Defense News, “UK Shows Interest in Buying Another C-17″.
May 18-24/12: #8 delivered & inducted. Boeing holds a delivery ceremony for the RAF’s 8th C-17, at its Long Beach, CA facility. The 7-week delivery turnaround indicates that Britain’s deal involved the transfer of a USAF aircraft production slot to Britain.
The aircraft arrives in Britain for a May 24th induction ceremony, joining its fellows in 99 Squadron, at RAF Brize Norton. Boeing adds that the RAF fleet has surpassed 74,000 flight hours since 2001: 15% above the projected rate. Boeing | UK MoD.
March 28/12: Contract. Boeing announces that Britain has signed a contract for the 8th C-17 (q.v. Feb 8/12).
March 7/12: The US DSCA announces [PDF] Britain’s request for 20 F-117-PW-100 engines and associated equipment to equip its C-17A fleet, plus engine exchange kits, Global Positioning Systems, communications equipment, support equipment, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, and all other related elements of program support. Only 4 of those are needed for C-17 #8; the other 16 would become fleet spares. The DSCA adds that:
“The proposed sale supports the continued UK access to the United States Air Force/Boeing GLOBEMASTER III Sustainment Partnership program supporting the UK’s fleet of eight Boeing C-17A GLOBEMASTER III aircraft. The estimated cost is $300 million.”
The prime contractor will be Boeing in Long Beach, CA, and implementation of this sale won’t require any more U.S. Government or contractor representatives in the UK.
DSCA request: Engines & GSP
Feb 8/12: Britain will buy #8. Prime Minister Cameron announces that Britain will be buying an 8th C-17, and a UK MoD release places the cost at GBP 200 million (over $317 million). Which does seem a bit high. Even American DoD costing standards that include a combat-ready C-17 and some support costs top out at around $260-270 million. UK MoD.
2010 – 2011
#7 ordered and delivered.
Jan 21/11: The RAF’s 7th C-17 arrives at 99 Sqn’s home base RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, England. After the official Nov 16/10 delivery, it underwent modifications at Boeing’s San Antonio, TX facility, before flying to the United Kingdom. RAF | Boeing.
Nov 16/10: Boeing formally delivers Britain’s 7th C-17A transport, via a ceremony held at their Long Beach, CA facility. This marks the 224th C-17 Boeing has delivered, including 20 to international customers. Boeing’s release adds that:
“The United Kingdom’s fleet of C-17s has logged more than 60,000 flight hours, and this year supported humanitarian and disaster-relief missions to Pakistan, Haiti and Chile. Assigned to 99 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton near Oxford, C-17s provide critical airlift capability for the nation’s Joint Rapid Reaction Force.”
Dec 17/09: #7 ordered Boeing and the UK’s MoD announce an agreement to supply Britain with a 7th C-17, per recent spending re-allocations. The current UK fleet of 6 C-17s has collectively logged more than 50,000 flight hours since its induction in 2001, and Boeing is scheduled to deliver the 7th aircraft in December 2010.
As has been customary for the UK, price is not disclosed, but past C-17 deals by existing customers have tended to be in the $200-265 million per plane range. That’s comparable to the price of commercial 747 variants. Boeing release.
Dec 15/09: +1 more? Britain’s Labour Party government announces that it intends to purchase another C-17, as part of a number of other immediate adjustments to planned defense spending, most of which involve cuts that are partially offset by purchases aimed at supporting the war in Afghanistan.
March 5/09: Britain’s RAF is under strain, trying to sustain an aerial supply bridge for 8,000 deployed troops in Afghanistan. With its 20 C-130Ks (C1/C3) being forced toward retirement, Aviation Week reports that Britain is looking at the possibility of leasing 5 C-130Js as a potential “bridge” until the A400Ms can begin to arrive, and/or finding ways to add to their 6-plane C-17 fleet.
Senior British Defense Ministry officials are believed to have met on March 4/09 to examine proposals for the ministry’s next “Planning Round 09.” Airlift and budget issues would have been prominent within those discussions.
2005 – 2008
4 leases converted; # 5 & 6 ordered and delivered.
June 11/08: Boeing delivers the United Kingdom’s 6th C-17 Globemaster III to the Royal Air Force (RAF) today during a ceremony at the company’s Long Beach, CA manufacturing facility. Boeing announced that there are now 173 C-17s delivered to the USAF, 6 to the British RAF, and 4 each to Australia’s RAAF and the Canadian Forces. Total: 187.
This completes all current orders outside the USA, though Boeing uses the term “completes the RAF’s initial order…” in its release. Basic optimism hoping for another tack-on British sale or two, or something more? Boeing release.
Dec 3/07: #6 ordered. Intent is converted into a contract. The purchase of a 6th C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft is announced by the new Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, Baroness Taylor. The C-17 will be purchased through a GBP 130 million (about $263 million) contract with the Boeing Company. UK MoD release.
Sept 25/07: Boeing announces a “major join” milestone C-17 final assembly facility with a “major join” ceremony for the United Kingdom’s 5th C-17 Globemaster III. Major join is when the airlifter’s 4 major fuselage sections (the forward, center and aft fuselages and wing assembly) are joined together into one structure.
Factory rollout for UK’s 5th C-17 is scheduled for December 2007, with first flight set for January 2008 and delivery tentatively scheduled for early 2008. Boeing release.
July 26/07: +1 more. Defence Secretary Des Brown announces Britain’s intent to purchase a 6th C-17 in a Written Ministerial Statement to Parliament. The new C-17 aircraft will join the rest of the C-17 fleet at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire when it enters service in late 2008/early 2009. UK MoD release.
Dec 28/06: Further British orders could depend on the C-17 production line’s health. The Times reports that:
“As fears grow that the delivery schedule for Airbus’ rival transport aircraft will slip further, The Times has learnt that the MoD is planning to buy three Boeing C17 Globemaster IIIs for about $660 million (GBP 337 million). But its plans are threatened by the potential closure of the C17 production line in the United States.
The Royal Air Force wants the additional C17s because it is understood to be impressed by its existing fleet and concerned about the delivery schedule for the Airbus 400M…”
Aug 4/06: 4 converted, #5 ordered. The UK announces that under a deal struck with Boeing, the UK will buy all 4 leased aircraft outright, and add a 5th to the RAF C-17 fleet at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire when it enters service in 2008.
The Canadian CASR think-tank priced the 2000 lease deal at about $750 million for the lease and $400 million for support arrangements (maintenance, training, services etc.), for a total cost of $1.15 billion. Based on recent aircraft-only sale figures for Australia, the current price of a C-17 is about $195 million, owing to special deals from Boeing. Many lease-to-own agreements will also put the lease price toward the final purchase, and if this is so here then the likely cost to Britain for this C-17 deal is about $250 – 350 million after offsets are applied, depending on how the purchase price of the 4 existing C-17s is figured.
Support costs under the Global C-17 Sustainment Partnership would of course be extra.
August 2006 Addendum: The Great C-17 Buying Push
Boeing is making a significant push to sign new C-17 customers in order to keep its production lines open past 2008; the US military professes a position whereby the cut-down fleet of 180 is sufficient, and proposes to stop funding additional purchases beyond that. Recent C-17 buys by Australia (4), Britain (1), and probably Canada (4-6) will help some, filling out the rest of the 2008 production schedule and possibly extending it into early 2009. Sweden may also want 2-3 aircraft, and and there has been some talk of NATO leasing 4 as a pooled asset like the super-giant AN-124s under SALIS [DID: that deal went through].
Ultimately, however, keeping the production lines open past 2009 required additional purchases by the US military, conducted at the insistence of Congress via hard lobbying and supplemental “earmark” legislation. That push, and foreign orders, kept the line open until 2015.
- DID – The Global C-17 Sustainment Partnership. An innovative contract leaves most maintenance in Boeing’s hands.
- UK MoD (Nov 29/07) – RAF’s biggest transport aircraft gets the goods to Afghanistan. Good description of the next steps and support systems required after the aircraft lands.