USAF signs deals for 15 more C-17s, upgraded C-5Ms

By Stephen Trimble

The US Air Force has signed deals to extend production of its Boeing C-17 and upgraded Lockheed Martin C-5 strategic transports for at least one more year.

Boeing will deliver 15 more C-17s under a $2.95 billion deal announced on 6 February. The long-awaited contract raises the USAF's overall order to 205 C-17s. Congress inserted the funds last year in a war spending bill after the USAF declined to request funds to extend production of the type.

The order extends Boeing's airlifter production up to August 2010, but the earliest portions of its supply chain will soon face shutdown again in the absence of new sales.

"We will continue to work with Congress and the US Air Force to provide an affordable option for meeting current and future airlift needs," says Boeing.

Boeing executives last November proposed a new way to meet reduced demand for the C-17 from its lead customer for the transport, which is also in service with Australia, Canada and the UK and is on order for NATO and Qatar. The company would consider slashing annual production rates in half for its US customer, they said, while keeping the price for each aircraft roughly constant.

In the past, the USAF has proposed buying as many as 305 C-17s. But Gen Norton Schwartz, the service's new chief of staff, has said that no more than 205 would be required unless Congress allows the service to begin retiring about 60 C-5As.

Meanwhile, the USAF has also signed a $300 million contract with Lockheed under the C-5M reliability enhancement and re-engining programme (RERP). The work involves modifying a third annual batch of C-5Bs to the C-5M standard, which includes the introduction of new General Electric CF6-80C2 turbofans.

The company on 9 February delivered its second of three C-5M developmental test aircraft to the USAF at Dover AFB, Delaware. The air force has also signed an $86 million deal with Lockheed for interim contractor support under the RERP effort.

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