Boeing Goes Begging ... Again

c17.jpgWhen the Air Force threatened last year to cap production of Boeing's C-17 airlifter, a major cash-cow, the company freaked out -- and wasted no time blackmailing Congress with the threat of lost jobs. (C-17 production employs 25,000 people in many states.)The result? Last month Congress tacked another 10 of the $200-million C-17s onto the program, for a grand total of 191. Combined with foreign sales to England (5), Australia (4), Canada (4) and NATO (3-4), this keeps the Long Beach, Calif., C-17 plant humming until 2009.But, already, Boeing is begging for more USAF orders, with an eye to sustaining C-17 production until the company can secure civil or more foreign orders, as reported in Aerospace Daily:

The next opportunity to secure more C-17s will occur in the second FY '07 supplemental, which is expected to be at least $40 billion if not more. Top defense officials are scheduled to finalize their request in November. Otherwise, industry representatives can try for more funds under regular FY '08 budgetmaking, which will be hammered out between the White House and the Pentagon by the end of the year.
Lawmakers forcing airplanes onto the military is not a new phenomenon -- nor is it always unwelcome. For decades, the Air Force has counted on Congressional add-ons to top off its Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules fleet. (Congress likes the C-130s because they keep a lot of people employed and because they're good state-level assets.) But with the C-17, the Air Force seems genuinely reluctant to divert too much cash to further production, as it's struggling to find money for the upcoming Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning, the new KC-X tanker and another long-range bomber.But it's not that the Air Force doesn't need the C-17s. The fleet is too small as is, Aerospace Daily continues:
Onlookers suggest the Pentagon did not take into account the heightened need for airlift to support natural disasters, homeland security missions and perhaps of most concern, the Army's Future Combat System deployments. The Army's shift to a U.S.-based expeditionary force will allow it to use smaller vehicles and network-centric systems, but industry officials question whether the Pentagon has taken into account how this strategy will affect its need to have airlift at the ready to quickly react to situations around the globe.
It's proof of the bleak budget picture that the Air Force is resisting airplanes it truly needs for other airplanes it needs even worse.--David Axe
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