About Projected Strategic Airlift Fleet May Not Be Enough, Says Air Force Reserve Chief
|December 6th, 2006||#1|
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Projected Strategic Airlift Fleet May Not Be Enough, Says Air Force Reserve Chief info
December 6, 2006
By Michael Sirak
The Air Force's projected fleet of C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III strategic transport aircraft may not be enough to support future warfighting needs, especially given the rates of usage that some of these aircraft are seeing today, the service's top reserve officer said yesterday.
"Frankly, I worry a lot about our strategic airlift capability in the United States," Lt. Gen. John Bradley, chief of the Air Force Reserve on the Air Staff and commander of Air Force Reserve Command (AFRC), told a Capitol Hill audience during a breakfast presentation.
Bradley said the Boeing [BA]-built C-17 and Lockheed Martin's [LMT] C-5 Galaxy are capable platforms, but there may simply not be enough of them.
The currently projected fleet of 190 C-17s and 111 C-5s is smaller than the past mix of C-5s and C-141 Starlifters, also built by Lockheed Martin. The Air Force retired the last of its C-141s earlier this year. At its zenith, the Starlifter fleet comprised 281 aircraft, Bradley said.
"We have about the same number of C-5s that we have had for a number of years," he told the attendees. "One hundred-ninety versus 280. The C-17 is a very capable airplane, no doubt about it. But when you go into large efforts, 280 C-141s was a lot of tails, so to speak, to fly missions. I worry about not having as many tails when we go to war, so frankly, more airplanes would be more helpful."
Bradley's speech was the final event of the 2006 Air Force Defense Strategy and Transformation Seminar series sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Plans and Operations, and DFI International.
The general later told Defense Daily in a written statement that the issue of strategic airlift is "a concern of mine as it is a high percentage of the overall missions assigned to Air Force Reserve Command." The Reserve operates both C-5 and C-17 units.
"Strat[egic] airlift has been heavily utilized in AFRC and we have used a large part of our mobilization authority," he wrote. And unlike other missions that the AFRC has supported, such as flying A-10 ground-attack and F-16 fighter aircraft in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Reserve has not been able to rely on volunteerism among its personnel to meet the heavy demands for airlift, he said.
Overall, the tempo of operating unabated at wartime levels since the start of Operation Desert Shield in 1990, "has resulted in very heavy use of our strategic airlift fleet and people," Bradley said.
"The Air Force is burning up its C-17 flying hours faster than predicted," he told Defense Daily. "Air Force plans called for C-17s to fly roughly 1,000 hours per year for 30 years, but current usage will use up the flying hours in 24 to 25 years."
Additionally, he wrote, both the C-17 and the Air Force's Lockheed Martin-built C-130 medium-range transports "are being strained with high-stress takeoffs and landings, heavy use of thrust reversers, and lots of wear and tear on the brakes and tires."
The Air Force's leadership and its mobility commanders have stated that they were satisfied with the projected size of the strategic airlift fleet based on the Mobility Capability Study (MCS) 2005 and the February 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which set the fleet at 180 C-17s and 112 C-5s. However, with the wear and tear being experienced with the C-17s, they asked for seven additional Globemasters in the service's FY'07 unfunded priorities list (Defense Daily, March 2).
The Congress went beyond that request by providing supplemental funding to buy 10 additional C-17s, upping the Air Force's fleet size to 190 from 180. The new aircraft will allow the service to have some backup attrition platforms.
While mobility commanders have said the ideal number of C-17s in the fleet would be 200, they and the Air Force leadership have been clear that they would prefer to spend their next dollar on the first of the Air Force's new KC-X aerial refueling aircraft, which has since become the Air Force's top procurement priority, than to purchase more C-17s (Defense Daily, March 3).
The Air Force is in the midst of upgrading the C-5s by installing new avionics to its older C-5As and newer C-5Bs and equipping the B models with new engines. The C-5As may eventually get new powerplants as well.
"I think we need C-5s to continue to help support our efforts because, when it comes time to go to war, you need to be able to get a lot of equipment and people overseas quickly," Bradley told the Capitol Hill crowd.
"We are going to have C-5s in the Air Force Reserve for as long as I can see in the future," he said. "I am hopeful that we will have the right upgrades for those airplanes so that they will be maintained for the long term. I would love to do the 'A's first because they are the older ones and need upgrades sooner."
Since the release of the QDR, a C-5B crashed in April at Dover Air Force Base, Dela., reducing the Galaxy fleet to 111.
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