David Small, Communications Director
Andrew Gonyea, Communications Assistant
At a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing July 13, senior Defense Department officials affirmed what Defense Secretary Robert Gates and others have been preaching: tax dollars should not be spent on additional C-17 transports beyond those already programmed. This position is one that members of ROA think is premature until a decision is made on how to fully proceed with plans for the full strategic airlift fleet including C-5s.
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Among the points witnesses made at this hearing were that the current strategic airlift fleet is strong and right-sized, and the Air Force already has excess C-5s and C-17s. The question we must ask, however is ‘what defines excess?’
Maj. Gen. Susan Desjardins, Air Mobility Command's director of strategic plans, requirements, and programs, also pointed out that the Air Force estimates it would save about $325 million over the FYDP if Congress grants the service's request to retire 22 of the least reliable C-5A transports. The savings would come from "depot-level maintenance, flying hours, and modernization activities that these aircraft would otherwise require." Desjardins noted that MCRS-16, the Pentagon's newest mobility study, identified excess strategic airlift capacity, and said that the savings would allow the Air Force to shift 16 C-17s permanently to the Air Force Reserve.
On the other side of the equation is the C-5 modernization program whereby a C-5 of any model can be re-engined and avionics upgraded allowing it to fly well past its current service life given its proven structural integrity. Only one C-5M created out of a C-5A has been tested thus far and initial results are favorable. ‘M’ is the moniker for an aircraft that has gone through both the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program (RERP) and the Aviation Modernization Program (AMP). Congress, however, is not throwing any money toward RERPing and AMPing the oldest C-5s. Neither is the Air Force asking for it, placing all their eggs in the C-5A retirement basket. As a matter of fact, the Air Force is on record publicly rejecting the concept of C-5A conversion, focusing RERP/AMP efforts on the C-5Bs in the regular component.
ROA's strategic airlift resolution, No. 10-07 passed in February, calls for "the proper mix of strategic airlift that includes further procurement of additional C-17 Globemaster III aircraft as may be required to ensure an adequate airlift force." The resolution also cites the significant need to replace the Guard and Reserve's C-5 aircraft, which are not currently scheduled to go through the Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program (RERP). The resolution adopted by ROA put faith in the idea that the MCRS 2016 study, not released at the time, would be based on sound judgment and forward thinking planning.
In an effort to slice $100 billion from their budget, perhaps DoD has also put too much faith in their plans. They put too much trust in their airlift algorithm, and are moving forward with seemingly no plan for the future. They are not advocating a necessary bridge to get to their plan now by keeping the C-17 line open until some of the congressionally scrutinized C-5As are allowed to retire with enough of the rest to be modernized, possibly backing themselves into a corner.
While the members of ROA fully recognize today’s budget constraints and the need to execute certain risks between mission and funding, members of ROA do not think it is altogether wise to shut down the only strategic airlift line currently running in the American aerospace industrial base without having all these other ducks lined up beforehand.
Read more about this topic in The Officer Magazine September edition.