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Fri, Sep 05, 2008

USAF General Sees No Need For New C-17 Variant

But New Orders For Current Version May Be Coming

A 'Hail Mary' proposal from Boeing in hopes of gaining new orders for its C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft may not be needed, according to the four-star general in charge of procuring new cargo planes for the US Air Force.

According to The Los Angeles Times, General Arthur J. Lichte recently told a group of military reporters he sees little need for a stronger, more powerful variant of the heavy-lifter aircraft, dubbed the C-17B, better suited for short-haul missions. Lichte says that role is already filled ably by the smaller Lockheed-Martin C-130.

"Right now -- and when I say right now, it's probably for the next 10, 15, 20 years -- we don't see as much a requirement for that," said Lichte.

But the news isn't all bad for Boeing, as it hopes to attract new buyers for the C-17 ahead of the forecast 2010 closure of the Long Beach, CA production facility that builds the C-17. Boeing thinks the US Army would also be interested in the plane, as that armed forces branch looks for aircraft able to haul a new line of armored vehicles now under development.

Already a strong short-field aircraft for its size, an upgraded C-17B "tactical" variant would be able to operate from even smaller, unimproved airstrips, and carry heavier payloads while doing it, says Boeing. The plane would sport more powerful engines, and additional landing gear bogeys to handle the extra weight.

In addition to orders from the US Army, Boeing hopes the Army would then help convince USAF leaders to also order the plane, thus keeping the production line moving for years to come.

Lichte held out hope for another possibility, as well. He said additional demands on the Air Force, including the recent creation of an African command authority, may spur him to order more original C-17s, on top of the 205 planes now in the pipeline. Continued difficulties with the program aimed at extending the life of the current fleet of Lockheed C-5 Galaxy aircraft -- including cost overruns with the CF6 re-engining program, as well as airframe fatigue issues -- may also bode well for the capable, though pricey, C-17.

"Could we see more regular C-17s? Yeah, I think we might, depending on how things go with some of these airlift studies," Lichte said. "We are continuing to look at the C-5: How much will it cost to sustain all that? Then [we will] make decisions whether we need more C-17s and need to retire C-5s."

Regardless of the route the Air Force ultimately takes, Lichte hopes to avoid the controversies now plaguing the Air Force's KC-X tanker and, to a lesser extent, the F-22 Raptor programs. That may be difficult, however... as the Pentagon has said repeatedly there is no need for new C-17s of any stripe.



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