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
"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
"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.