Joining Forces on Airlift:

Lawmakers in opposite camps in the battle of the big airlifters appear to have cast aside their preference for either the C-17 or the C-5 to put their combined strength behind getting the Pentagon to produce a comprehensive study of strategic airlift needs. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), a C-17 proponent, has garnered support on both sides of the issue for an amendment to the 2008 defense authorization bill that would require an independent study of Air Force intertheater airlift needs. A key question for the study would be whether the Quadrennial Defense Review-directed fleet size of 299 C-5s and C-17s will be sufficient, considering such things at the growth of the ground force, the use of heavy airlifters in intratheater combat roles, and the deployment of the Army’s Future Combat System. McCaskill and her cosponsors also want to know just how the use of heavy airlifters in theater combat operations is affecting their age and the impact of that “accelerated aging” on a replacement schedule. The amendment, which calls for study completion in February 2009, must survive the Senate and subsequent conference with the House. There was heated debate on the House side this spring over whether the Air Force should spend its scarce dollars to revamp the C-5 fleet or buy more new C-17s.