Senate Pressures WH on C-17 Buy

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Nineteen senators are pressuring the White House and Pentagon to "rightly fund" C-17 production by including it in the forthcoming fiscal 2009 budget request due to Congress in February.

Two letters, dated Dec. 13, were dispatched; one each went to White House Office of Management and Budget Director Jim Nussle and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Both letters encourage the Bush administration to stop looking to Congress to plus-up funding for Boeing's strategic airlifter production line in Long Beach, Calif.

"We encourage you to work with DOD leadership to have C-17 funding added to their budget," the senators say to Nussle. "While Congress has sustained C-17 production in recent years, it is unrealistic to presume that it will be able to continuously support needed production through congressional adds."

Congress has provided funding to keep the production line open in the last two years; orders now stand at 190. The senators, however, tell Gates that the strategy of relying on congressional plus ups "is no longer viable."

The production line would close in 2009 without additional money, and without a nod from the government, Boeing would be forced to close operations at its suppliers. The senators note that about 30,000 jobs around the country contribute to C-17 production. Suppliers are now being funded by Boeing in hopes that the U.S. government will buy more of the massive airlifters.

The Pentagon's requirement for strategic airlift is about 300 aircraft. It has about 111 C-5s, which are in disrepair and subject to a $17 billion re-engining project before they can provide sufficient reliability. However, past requirements studies have not taken into account use of the C-17 as an intratheater airlifter, the increasing end strength of the ground forces, addition of an Africa Command and the demands of the war on terrorism. The Pentagon is planning to undertake a new Mobility Capabilities and Requirements Study next year.

Citing skepticism about the future of the C-5 modernization program, U.S. Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz, chief of U.S. Transportation Command, has told Congress he needs at least 250 C-17s to handle his missions.

Read more on the C-17 push from our Aviation Week friends at Military.com.

-- Christian

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