Keeping Perspective

Despite all of the present uncertainties regarding the composition of the future strategic airlift fleet (see above), Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz, commander of US Transportation Command, said a cap of 205 C-17s remains the right number when factoring the Air Force’s other airlifters and the commercial air transport capacity that the US military can call upon. “It is premature to suggest that we require additional ’17s as far as I can see” beyond 205, Schwartz told the House Armed Services Committee April 1. That number of C-17s, plus the programmed fleet of 111 C-5s and the new KC-45A tanker, which will have ancillary cargo and passenger hauling roles, will provide a level of capability within acceptable risk, he said. Even if the ongoing studies examining the future airlift needs show that there is an increased requirement, Schwartz said he wouldn’t necessarily change his view. Indeed a presumption that all changes in requirements will lead to more airlift is not necessarily the right way to approach the issue, he said. “Not everything goes by air,” he said. If, however, the decision is made to go beyond 205 C-17s, then Schwartz said he would recommend perhaps reducing another part of the organic airlift fleet, which “probably means C-5As.” He said it remains important to maintain the proper balance between organic capacity and the Civil Reserve Air Fleet. He did acknowledge that “if money were no object, I’d rather have the C-17s” as opposed to older, less reliable C-5s. The Air Force has taken delivery of 171 C-17s of the 190 C-17s that it has on order, Schwartz said. USAF has requested 15 C-17s in its Fiscal 2009 unfunded requirements list. That would bring its program of record to 205, Schwartz’s recommendation.