The Air Force plans to activate more C-5M Super Galaxies after removing a number of the cargo planes from active service due to budget constraints, officials said.
A few years ago, the size of the fleet was more than 100 aircraft; today, it's half of that, according to Gen. Carlton Everhart, the head of Air Mobility Command.
Over the next few years, the Air Force plans to allocate funding to move at least eight of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made strategic airlifters out of backup status, according to Lt. Gen. Jerry D. Harris, the service's deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements.
"We're going to buy back two a year for four years, if we're able to have a predictable budget to get the fleet back to a higher quality," Harris said Thursday during a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee's Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee.
He testified alongside Lt. Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, the military deputy at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, and Maj. Gen. Scott A. Vander Hamm, assistant deputy chief of staff for Air Force operations.
Everhart has said he wants to activate the C-5s over an even shorter period of time.
"Those eight C-5Ms? I was going to buy them back within a two-year period," Everhart told reporters and lawmakers at a March 31 event at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. But due to spending caps and the lack of an appropriations bill, he said, that effort has "been delayed twice ... in two budget cycles."
Everhart said the caps, known as sequestration, forced officials to move the airlifters to backup inventory, "which means we still have the aircraft but lost all manning and funding to operate them."
In addition, four C-5s had already been sidelined through previous budget cuts, bringing the total number of inactivated Super Galaxies to 12.
Everhart said a C-5M recently aircraft flew from Travis Air Force Base, California, to Yokota, Japan -- a feat for the 247-foot-long airlifter, which can take off at a max weight of 840,000 pounds. Normally, the aircraft stops in Hawaii. But it kept going.
"It's the only airlifter in the inventory that can make the flight non-stop, which means we can put the American flag on the ground in hours versus days," Everhart said.
The general said, "Just a few years ago, we had 112 C-5s. Today, we have 56."
And even that number might be high. The Air Force as of Sept. 30, 2016, had a total of 48 C-5s, including 38 C-5Ms, 5 C-5As, 4 C-5Bs and 1 C-5C across the active, Guard and reserve components, according to inventory figures published by the Air Force Association.
Air Mobility Command wants to make up for lost time in part by upgrading the largest airlifter in the inventory.
The C-5 is being upgraded "to improve communications, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management compliance, as well as adding new safety equipment and installing a new autopilot system," according to a release.
Some of that expense has been outlined in the fiscal 2018 budget request.
Bunch noted in his hearing testimony that the proposed spending plan for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 requests $50.6 million in procurement funds predominantly for C-5 core mission computer/weather radar system equipment.