Don’t Look for an Airlift Mix Change

Air Force Gen. Duncan McNabb, head of US Transportation Command, believes the Pentagon has “the overall mix [of airlift] about right, unless something changes.” When questioned by Senate Armed Services Committee members March 17, McNabb said that the current program of record for 205 C-17s—despite the unprecedented high use rate for those aircraft in Southwest Asia—and the planned modernization of C-5s “satisfies the requirements that I have.” He noted that the Mobility Capability Requirement Study-2016 that goes to Pentagon leadership in May is considering the increase in the number of ground forces begun during the Bush Administration and the higher usage of the C-17, but it seemed clear he does not anticipate a change to the number of C-17s. (The Government Accountability Office last fall questioned whether cutting off C-17 production at 205 might be premature.) Even when Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) noted that the Air Force is “flying the wings off” its C-17s and asked, “Why are you all not asking for more?,” McNabb maintained that the answer lies in the competing options. Those options considered, for instance, “the re-engining of the C-5 vice how much does a new C-17 cost,” and that led to, said McNabb, “the most cost-effective mix that actually meets [the combatant commanders’] needs.” He is banking on the C-5 mod to significantly increase the reliability of the behemoth airlifter, and he believes the KC-X tanker will also add “incomparable” mobility enterprise value in its alter ego role as airlifter. (McNabb written testimony)