Last of the Globemasters: The Final C-17 Orders
March 13/18: New HUD A three week test period of a Replacement Head-Up Display (RHUD) for the C-17 Globemaster III has just wrapped up at Edwards Air Force Base. During the testing, the 418th Flight Test Squadron’s C-17 Integrated Test Team partnered with pilots from Air Mobility Command Test and Evaluation Squadron Detachment 3 and operational pilots from Travis Air Force Base to collect test data from the ground and in the air. Designed by Elbit Systems of America, the new HUD is larger and has more clarity of symbology than the obsolete Legacy HUD and is designed to be installed and removed easier for maintenance and includes other enhancements.
The C-17 has had more money-driven last hurrahs than The Who. Even so, FY 2010 featured the USAF’s last planned orders of C-17 Globemaster III short field, heavy-lift transport jets.
The Pentagon had been trying to end the program for years, but 3 factors led Congress to keep adding new C-17s to the budget, year after year: (1) deep doubts about the premises, pre-9/11 vintage, and quality of the Pentagon’s mobility studies; (2) uncertainty concerning the C-5 Galaxy super-heavy transport’s upgrade programs; and (3) a fleet wear tempo much higher than originally forecast, driven by constant requests from theater for C-17s.
All things end, and there were no new C-17s bought in the FY 2011 or FY 2012 budgets. That would leave the USA with a total ordered fleet of 223, once they’re all under contract. At long last, they are.
Contracts & Key Events, 2009 – Present
Final USAF C-17 purchases, by year, are 15 in FY 2008, 8 in FY 2009, and 10 in FY 2010. Foreign orders have kept the production line alive, and in 2012, a single C-17 was ordered to replace an aircraft that had been destroyed. Order placement may not conform exactly, depending on the progress and timing of negotiations. Those numbers, coupled with greater certainty in the cut-down C-5 upgrade program, and a looming budget crises in the USA, make it likely that the end has finally come. Enhancements and maintenance will continue to attract significant budgets, but USAF production will end. In response, Boeing is throttling back annual C-17 production. In order to keep the C-17 production line and sales cycle alive, they’ll have to depend on foreign orders from export customers like the UAE, India, etc., orders for a civilian transport version to provide outsize cargo and/or remote equipment delivery, or some other contingency.
The expected total of 223 USAF C-17s sits just above the program’s original goal of 210 planes, which may be a fortunate thing. The Global War on Terror created very heavy demand for C-17s, resulting in increased flying hours that are wearing out the fleet early. Adding additional aircraft will help the fleet as a whole last longer, by distributing flight hours across more planes. At the same time, US vehicle programs continue to exceed the weight limit of lesser transports, ensuring robust future demand.
Unless otherwise noted, Boeing Defense, Space and Security’s Global Mobility Systems unit in Long Beach, CA executes the contracts, which are issued by by the 516th AESG/PK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH. Note that separate contracts exist for F117 engines, and for other “government furnished equipment” that is part of the final, operational aircraft.
March 13/18 New HUD A three week test period of a Replacement Head-Up Display (RHUD) for the C-17 Globemaster III has just wrapped up at Edwards Air Force Base. During the testing, the 418th Flight Test Squadron’s C-17 Integrated Test Team partnered with pilots from Air Mobility Command Test and Evaluation Squadron Detachment 3 and operational pilots from Travis Air Force Base to collect test data from the ground and in the air. Designed by Elbit Systems of America, the new HUD is larger and has more clarity of symbology than the obsolete Legacy HUD and is designed to be installed and removed easier for maintenance and includes other enhancements.
November 14/17: India is in danger of losing out on purchasing the last available C-17 Globemaster heavy transport aircraft as New Delhi’s agonisingly long procurement process may see manufacturer Boeing offer the aircraft to someone else. In 2015, the Indian Air Force (IAF) approved the purchase of three C-17s to add to its current fleet of ten, but with the Globemaster’s production line already shut down, Boeing only had one remaining to sell. But New Delhi has so far failed to send the formal Letter of Acceptance (LoA) required as part of the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) process and instead are looking to request an extension of the deadline to next year, thus pushing the completion of the procurement process further down the line. As a result, Washington could rescind the offer and instead look at other interested parties.
June 28/17: The US State Department has cleared the possible sale of one C-17 transport aircraft to India. Valued at an estimated $366 million, the package also includes 4 Turbofan F-117-PW-100 engines, a missile warning system, a countermeasures dispensing system and an identification friend or foe transponder. Offsets usually requested by New Delhi’s ‘Make in India’ initiative will be negotiated between both India and lead contractor Boeing.
April 23/17: Canada is to receive a C-17 Globemaster III sustainment package after the US State Department approved the potential foreign military sale. Valued at a possible $195 million, the deal will support five C-17s operated by Canada including tasks such as in-country field services, maintenance and technical support, spares and additional equipment. Boeing will act as lead contractor with support to be provided by Lockheed Martin.
March 13/17: The USAF has announced that it has used a quadcopter to conduct a maintenance inspection of the exterior of a C-17 aircraft. Conducted at Edwards Air Force Base, the 412th Test Wing’s Emerging Technologies Combined Test Force (CTF) conducted three sorties with the mini-UAV and it worked so well it allowed the ground crew to sign off on their preflight external inspection of the aircraft. It’s expected that use of such drones will help cut the inspection time from 45-60 minutes to just minutes. The test comes under the CTF’s task to provide agile, innovative flight test capabilities for emerging technologies and to explore the USAF’s future warfighting capabilities.
January 25/17: Besides Trident, the UK has been unsurprisingly cleared to receive continued C-17 logistics support services, and equipment from the US. Valued at an estimated cost of $400 million, provisions in the contract include continued support for eight RAF C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft once the previous deal expires in September.
February 25/16: C-17 transport aircraft used by the UAE military are to be fitted with infrared countermeasure systems in a program that could cost up to $225 million. The provision of AN/AAQ-24(V)N Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) equipment, and logistics support was approved by the US State Department as a Foreign Military Sale. Eight C-17s will receive a LAIRCM system which includes three Guardian Laser Transmitter Assemblies (GLTA), six Ultra-Violet Missile Warning System (UVMWS) Sensors AN/AAR-54, and one LAIRCM System Processor Replacement (LSPR).
December 1/15: Boeing has finished production of the final C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and it will make its way to Qatar next year. The completion of the plane will see the Long Beach plant close at a loss of 400 jobs. Since its inception in 1991, 279 Globemasters have been produced at the California facility, but lack of international demand for the plane has rendered keeping the plant open financially unfeasible. C-17 fleets are currently operational in UK, Canada, Qatar and Australia.
April 27/15: Boeing took a flyer and privately financed the production of 10 C-17A Globemasters. With a series of Commonwealth countries expressing interest, five are still left unsold.
Sept 12/13: Era ending. Boeing delivers the USAF’s 223rd and last C-17A Globemaster III, which flies off to its assignment at Joint Base Charleston, SC. It marks the end of an era that began with the C-17’s 1st flight, on Sept 15/91.
In a follow-on release, Boeing says that C-17 production for all customers will end in 2015, with the closure of the Long Beach, CA assembly line after the last 22 C-17s are delivered. It’s possible that a couple of additional orders might materialize, but that’s not enough. As Boeing Defense, Space & Security President Dennis Muilenburg put it:
“Our customers around the world face very tough budget environments. While the desire for the C-17’s capabilities is high, budgets cannot support additional purchases in the timing required to keep the production line open…”
Boeing will take a charge of < $100 million this quarter, and expects to begin the layoff process in 2014 for nearly 3,000 employees in Long Beach, CA; Macon, GA; Mesa, AZ; and St. Louis, MO. They had throttled back production to try and keep the line open for foreign sales, but the number of customers with the budget to buy them was always limited, and so was the amount of extra time those orders could give the production line. Sources: Boeing video feature | Boeing releases, Sept 12 and Sept 15/13.
Final USAF delivery, Plant shutdown announcement
June 19/12: One more. Boeing receives a $169.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for 1 USAF C-17A replacement aircraft. Boeing has confirmed that this contract is for the USAF.
It is needed to replace the C-17 lost in the 2010 accident, but the contract doesn’t include important “government-furnished” items like engines (another $35-38 million), military communications and defensive systems, etc. See the February 2011 entry for average C-17 costs.
Work will be performed in Long Beach, CA, and will be complete by May 23/13. The ASC/WLMK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8614-06-D-2006, DO 0010).
Jan 23/12: Finis. Boeing in Long Beach, CA receives a $693.4 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to delivery order (DO) 0006, for 5 more USAF C-17s. DO 0006 is noted on May 16/11, and bought the 1st 5 aircraft of the USAF’s FY 2010 order. This agreement and contract is confirmed as closing the books on USAF C-17 production, by bringing the order to its expected 10.
Work will be performed in Long Beach, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 20/13. The ASC/WLMK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8614-06-D-2006, DO 000603).
May 16/11: A $962.5 million firm-fixed-price delivery order against the basic C-17 production contract, for 5 of the FY 2010 C-17A aircraft. At this time, $471.6 million has been committed.
Boeing representatives said that a contract for the other 5 is expected later in 2011 (FA8614-06-D-2006, DO 0006).
February 2011: According to the USAF’s FY 2012 budget documents [PDF], flyaway costs for the last set of FY 2010 C-17s is around $193 million each, rising to a full operational cost per aircraft of about $256 million once spares, site support, training, etc. are also factored in.
All planned USAF orders (incl. FY 2010) and existing export orders would see the C-17 production line end at the end of November 2012, with the USAF taking the final delivery. [Addendum: A subsequent order from Australia pushes this to the end of December 2012.]
Jan 20/11: Boeing announces the 2nd phase of C-17 Program Production Rate and Work Force Reductions. 1,100 employees cut, 900 in Long Beach, CA, as production drops from its high-water mark of 15 C-17s per year down to 10 per year.
Boeing hopes to keep the line open longer this way. The tradeoff is added fixed costs from running the line for more years, vs. the potential for new orders each extra year the line is still running. Recent experience with export orders shows latent demand around the globe, and once the C-17 line stops, strategic airlift options will shrink to rented Russian/Ukrainian AN-124s, or the medium-heavy lift Airbus A400M.
July 28/10: Crash. A USAF C-17A (tail number 00-0173) crashes at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, killing all 4 crew aboard. The crew were preparing for Elmendorf’s Arctic Thunder Air Show, which went ahead on July 31/10. The crash is attributed to pilot error.
June 22/10: A $1.5 billion contract modification to buy 8 more C-17 aircraft for the USAF. At this time, $734.4 million has already been committed (FA8614-06-D-2006).
February 2010: Budgets. The USAF’s FY 2011 budget submission [PDF] gives an average C-17 flyaway cost to date of around $201 million over the entire program, rising to a full “weapon system cost” of $267.5 million once required spares and support are also factored in. Despite this, it also notes that:
“The FY2010 appropriation of $2.5B “for the procurement of ten C-17 aircraft, associated spares, support equipment and training equipment as required” is not sufficient for this requirement. Shortfall estimated at $530M.”
These 10 aircraft would push total USAF buys to 223. That’s 13 more than the original program goal of 210, and far more than the 180 plane fleet the USAF would have had without Congressional intervention. On the other hand, the 223 were built over a longer manufacturing time frame than originally planned, and in the face of a fleet whose first C-17s are going to be retiring early due to heavy usage.
Feb 6/09: FY 2009. A firm-fixed-price contract to McDonnell Douglas Corporation of Long Beach, CA for an amount not to exceed $2.95 billion. This is an unfinalized contract to buy 15 more C-17A Globemaster III strategic transport aircraft in FY 2009, and separate contracts can be expected for engines and government furnished equipment that is part of the final, operational plane. At this time, $114.6 million has been committed. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH will manage the contract (FA8614-06-D-2006).
Budgets to the end of FY 2008 would bring the American fleet to 205 aircraft, and the FY 2009 budget calls for 8 more.
- DID – The Global C-17 Sustainment Partnership. After they’re produced, a maintenance partnership with Boeing takes over. That work will continue.
- DID – C-17 Post-Production: The Long Goodbye. Close-out funding to store the production equipment, data, etc. when the line shuts.
- DID – C-17 Production Line Out of Time?
- 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
- Reuters (Jan 20/09) – Obama renews pledge to invest in military. There are rumors that the C-17 will be green-lighted again, but they prove to be untrue. The administration continues to fight new C-17 appropriations, using a series of escalating threats.
- DID (May 8/08) – C-17A, F-22A May Get Reprieves from Congress
- DID – Interactive: C-5s vs. C-17s in Washington
- DID – Airbus A400M Aerial Transport: Delays and Development
- DID – NATO’s AN-124s: A Russian Solution to the Airlift Problem… And More?