If current plans are followed, 2 major military aviation programs will close their production lines in 2009. This is not a decision to be taken lightly. Restarting a shuttered production line can cost billions of dollars. Worse, much of the human expertise will be gone and must be rebuilt over time, a factor that can add additional time, cost, and even quality issues to the project.
America’s C-17 strategic transport program has been doing the dance of the 7 veils since 2005. The Pentagon claims the existing fleet is sufficient. Meanwhile, Congress states its open disbelief in the reports and justifications used to reach that conclusion, and continues to appropriate money and new planes. The associated issue of aerospace competitiveness also looms in the background. Shutting the C-17 line would leave America without a viable entry in the light and strategic military transport markets, leaving the strategic market to the Airbus A400M and Russia’s AN-124 Ruslan. DID articles like “C-17 Production Line Out of Time?” “Lexington Institute on ‘The Dumbest Weapons Decision of the Decade’,” and “Interactive: C-5s vs. C-17s in Washington” look at some of the associated issues.
The USA’s super-maneuverable, supersonic cruising F-22A Raptor stealth fighter is also set to close its production line in 2009, at the end of a 3-year multi-year contract that would bring the USA’s total F-22A fleet to 180 planes. Now that serious doubts have arisen concerning the long term safety of the USA’s F-15A-D Eagle fleet, however, the F-22 is getting a strong second look as a potentially important insurance policy. The rise of Russian and European offerings that outclass other American fighters, and fact that the USAF believes it will need at least 277 F-22s, are also playing a role in this decision.
Now Reuters reports that the US House Armed Services Committee’s Air & Land Forces subcommittee has recommended $3.9 billion to buy 15 Boeing C-17 cargo aircraft, plus an additional $523 million as a down payment on 20 more F-22A fighters in FY 2010.
UPDATE: The House Armed Services Committee accepted these recommendations. The bill was passed in late June.