Interactive: C-5s vs. C-17s in Washington
A Washington think-tank has gone so far as to call the planned cancellation of C-17 heavy transport aircraft production “The Dumbest Weapons Decision of the Decade.” With heavy usage that is accumulating fatigue hours far faster than originally planned, the US Air Force is loath to pay $1.5 billion to close the C-17 line – then pay another $4+ billion to re-open if their decision proves to be too hasty. Not to mention the larger $8+ billion economic effects and lost jobs. Still, the cost of its equipment means that funds are tight, and last-minute Congressional earmarks have been necessary to keep the C-17 line going. Concern has also been expressed that by shuttering the line, the USA is effectively handing the global strategic airlift market over to France and Russia; the Airbus A400M and Russia’s super-giant AN-124 would be the only games in town from 2010-2025, or longer.
Worse, there is almost no confidence in the Pentagon’s 2005 Mobility Requirements Study, whose assumptions hadn’t budged from a 2000 study – before 9/11 and the resulting global war saw airlift usage and flight hours skyrocket, before the Army’s Future Combat Systems’ failure to fit into C-130 transports as promised… before a lot of things happened. Now, as the battle in Washington heats up again, DID offers this updated article, readings – and accompanying interactive Excel spreadsheet – as a contribution to the discussions.
Meanwhile, the C-5M AMP/RERP program to upgrade America’s super-giant Galaxy aircraft with modern avionics and engines has hit project and budgetary turbulence, with an official USAF cost growth notification, and predictions of a rise from $8-9 billion to $16-17 billion. Sue Payton, the Air Force’s acquisition executive, told a Senate committee that per-aircraft costs for C-5 AMP/RERP had ballooned to $146.7 million. Lockheed Martin business ventures vice president Larry McQuien, on the other hand, stands by the company’s $83 million price commitment, and said that even adding additional costs raised by the Air Force like training, spare parts, support equipment, and unanticipated repairs, the per aircraft price would not exceed $118 million per plane. Regardless of who’s right, until the USAF knows how the C-5 upgrades will turn out, the uncertainty adds another layer of risk to canceling the C-17.
It’s a turbulent debate. Some Reps. like Rep. Ellen Tauscher [D-CA] and Rep. Mike Castle [R-DE] are pushing “United States Airlift Requirement Act,” demanding a real mobility study that explicitly compares the C-5 and C-17 options. Others believe the C-17 and C-5 programs are not mutually exclusive, given current demands on the fleet and the planned addition of 90,000+ soldiers and Marines in the coming years. In the end, however, funds must be increased, or hard choices must be made, or an innovative “3rd option” out of the bind must be found.
To shed a bit of light on some of the key variables involved and what they really mean, DID has taken data from Congressional Research Service’s testimony to Congress in March 2007. We’ve added information from other sources, and structured an Excel spreadsheet that looks at the 2 programs and compares each aircraft’s program costs, lifetime costs to operate, and more. Red “tags” in a cell are pop-up explanations; just move your mouse over them, and they display a quick explanation or relevant insight. Best of all, the key variables are adjustable, so you can change some of the figures and see how it flows through to the final totals:
Additional readings and relevant news items can be found below – and this spreadsheet is open to improvement. Readers are invited to submit important data we may have missed (source must be indicated), or take issue with anything they believe to be a mistake, via editorial@… here at defenseindudstrydaily.com. We’ll look at it, and update the Excel sheet (and article) as required.
Additional Readings & Sources
- DID FOCUS Article – Saving the Galaxy: The C-5 AMP/RERP Program. Key note involves duelling research reports. It depends on which one you believe: “…a 2008 Government Accountability Office report that found the military “would need to fully modernize seven C-5s to attain the equivalent capability achieved from acquiring one additional C-17.” But the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) came to a seemingly contradictory conclusion this year, stating that, “retiring C-5As to release funds to buy and operate more C-17s is not cost effective.”
- DID Focus: The Global C-17 Sustainment Partnership. Includes details regarding the aircraft, and its performance-based support partnership that keeps costs predictable and readiness high.
- DID – C-17 Production Line Out of Time? Includes updates re: additional orders to keep the line alive.
- DID – C-17 Lobbying Picks up In Wake of Commerce Dept. Report. A February 2006 article. The report discussed the costs of closing the production line, and of re-opening it.
- Aviation Week’s Defense Technology International (Jun 13/07) – A400M Could Dominate Strategic Lift. Also covers the C-17 program, and C-5 AMP/RERP upgrades. “The trend in airlift demand is going to place a premium on aircraft that carry more than a C-130. The goal of carrying Future Combat Systems vehicles on the C-130 has been abandoned. Even the new Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles are so heavy that a C-130 will carry only one of them. And plans call for the Army to get bigger. If there is an airlift crisis in 2015-20, you read it first here.”
- DID – Boeing’s Skyhook Shot: Redefining the Aerial Heavy-Lift Market? An innovative “3rd way” out for some of the C-17, and C-130’s tasks?
- Lexington Institute (Oct 19/09) – C-5 Versus C-17: An Assessment Of Airlift Options
- Los Angeles Times (Oct 1/09) – In bipartisan vote, Senate protects funding for Boeing C-17 cargo planes. McCain’s amendment to strip the Senate’s proposed $2.5 billion in additional funding for 10 more planes, on top of the $2.2 billion for 8 C-17s already in the Pentagon’s FY 2010 budget, is defeated 64-34. The FY 2010 House bill adds just 3 more planes for $674 million, and the 2 must be reconciled in committee. The margin of this vote strengthens the Senate’s position.
- Lexington Institute (Sept 30/09) – Lift: Retiring C-5s To Buy C-17s Is An Idea That Won’t Fly
- OC180 News (Aug 10/09) – Round 7 in the Fight for the Boeing C-17 Production Line and Its 5,000 Long Beach Jobs–a Continuing Monday Morning series
- USAF (April 22/09) – Airmen, Marines work together to test-load helicopters. The USMC’s new UH-1Y Hueys and AH-1Z attack helicopters needed too many parts stripped before they could be loaded in to C-17s, so they’re working on procedures for C-5s.
- DID (April 6/09) – Gates Lays Out Key FY 2010 Budget Recommendations. One of which is to end C-17 production. He’s probably going to lose that battle, again.
- DID (Feb 8/09) – 15 17s in 09 = 205
- Defense News (Jan 23/09) – White House Signals Support for More C-17s, UAVs, Small Ships
- Aero-News (Sept 5/08) – USAF General Sees No Need For New C-17 Variant. The proposed C-17B would add more powerful engines, and additional landing gear bogeys, in order to operate with heavier loads, from even less developed air strips. USAF AMC commander Gen. Arthur J. Lichte doen’t see a need for that aircraft, but the USAF is looking at new C-17s with C-5A RERP/engine upgrades now terminated.
- Long Beach Gazette Newspapers (July 2/08) – Congress, President Extend C-17 Program. This 15 plane order will keep the production line open until about August 2010.
- L.A. Daily Breeze (June 25/08) – C-17 fate hangs on bill. The FY 2008 supplemental wartime funding bill, which would add 15 more C-17s.
- USAF (Nov 23/07) – AMC commander discusses modernization, recapitalization issues. Among other topics discussed, Gen. Lichte favors re-engining only the C-5Bs, and acquiring more C-17s.
- US DoD DefenseLINK (Nov 19/07) – Department of Defense Releases Selected Acquisition Reports. The official Air Force estimates for the C-5 AMP/RERP program are in, as they report a “critical” cost breach under Nunn-McCurdy legislation.
- Janes Defence Weekly (Nov 9/07) – US Army urges USAF to boost airlifter number. “The US Army is worried about its increasing requirements for strategic airlift and would like the US Air Force (USAF) to request funds to keep the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III production line open. Brigadier General Stephen Mundt, director of army aviation, said the army is engaged in staff-level discussions with the USAF about the number of mobility aircraft that will be required to meet the needs of ground forces in the future.”
- Defense News (Oct 29/07) – Airplanes on Life Support. Moseley, Wynne Plead: Let USAF Pull the Plug. They’re talking about aircraft that can’t fly but must be kept per Congressional directives, which includes a number of C-130E Hercules and KC-135E Stratotankers. It also talks about the C-5 programs, and thoughts of discarding the C-5As.
- Gannett’s Air Force Times (Oct 29/07) – MRAPs going to Iraq on Russian cargo planes. “The Air Force has been forced to use Russian commercial cargo jets to rush Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles from the U.S. to Iraq because it does not have enough C-5 and C-17 planes to do the job, the service’s top civilian official said recently…” Er, there is such thing as sealift…
- Vacaville Reporter (Oct 29/07) – C-5, C-17 topic of planned study
- Chicago Business (Oct 24/07) – Air Force dreads closing Boeing C-17 line
- Government Executive magazine (Oct 24/07) – Lawmaker chides Air Force for fixation on budget woes
- DID (Oct 21/07) – USAF Talking to Airbus About A380 Air Force 1, C-5 Replacement? But how serious are they on either score?
- Gannett’s Air force Times (Oct 19/07) – Bill wants a study on airlift capabilities
- The News Journal of Wilmington, DE, Op/Ed (Oct 18/07) – $250 million here, $2.4 billion there and pretty soon it’s real money
- Aviation Week (Oct 17/07) – Unrequested C-17s Expected To Get Appropriations
- Macon Telegraph (Oct 7/07) – C-5 future hangs on Air Force, Lockheed price differences. “The Galaxy fleet – sixty 1960s-vintage C-5As, forty-nine 1980s-era C-5Bs and two C-5Cs for use by NASA – has been plagued by nagging deficiencies. The C-5Bs were mission ready 66.6 percent of the time last year. The C-5As were much worse at 49.1 percent. The C-5’s counterpart, the much newer C-17 strategic airlifter, registered reliability of almost 85 percent.”
- Flight International (Oct 1/07) – USAF rounds on Congressional C-5 protection
- Defense News (Oct 1/07) – C-5 Upgrade Effort Imperiled by Cost Confusion
- Stars & Stripes (Oct 1/07) – ‘Winglets’ could save Air Force millions on fuel
- Flight International (March 20/07) – Latest C-5 flies into budget storm
- Government Executive (March 8/07) – Lawmakers divided over cargo plane options
- DID (Sept 19/06) – Lexington Institute on “The Dumbest Weapons Decision of the Decade”
- DID (Nov 14/05) – Delayed Pentagon Mobility Study Finally Offers a Preview