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Boeing Pushing for $3.75 Billion to Continue Building Air Force C-17 Cargo Planes

Congress is being asked to add as much as $3.75 billion to the Pentagon’s fiscal 2008 budget to continue building the Air Force’s C-17 cargo aircraft, according to Congressional sources and lobbying documents.

For several years, the Pentagon has sought to end production of the C-17 — which Boeing manufactures in Long Beach, Calif. — arguing the 180 it already has in its inventory are sufficient. Lawmakers, however, have consistently added more money for C-17s, including $4 billion in fiscal 2007 for 10 aircraft beyond the Pentagon’s request.

Boeing, in a white paper circulating on Capitol Hill, argues that the Defense Department would need $3.5 billion next year to keep its C-17 production line running.

The paper, titled “C-17 Status,” hit Congress at a time when lawmakers are questioning the Air Force’s decision to close out its C-17 production line at the end of 2008.

At a House Armed Services Committee hearing Feb. 28, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who heads the the panel’s subcommittee on strategic forces, said she was in favor of buying more C-17s.

“I take some responsibility for advocating for more C-17s in the last cycle,” Tauscher said. “I’m proud to say that I’m very interested in keeping that production line warm.”

According to Boeing’s paper, the Defense Department is currently developing a new cargo aircraft, known as the Advanced Joint Airlift Combat System, that is intended to be ready for deployment around 2020. But Boeing argues that a modified version of the C-17 could be a better choice for a future aircraft and is seeking investment dollars for that effort.

“A modified C-17, called C-17B, can meet more than 80 percent of these future AJACS requirements, perhaps a decade sooner and at a savings of billions of dollars,” the document reads.

If development begins in fiscal 2008, initial fielding of a C-17B could occur as early as 2012, according to the Boeing paper. This, however, can occur only if the C-17 supply base remains “viable” by continuing C-17 production, the paper says.

Specifically, the company says that the department will need to spend “up to” $3.5 billion next year to purchase 16 C-17s. Additionally, $250 million in research and development funds would be needed next year to fund a two-year C-17B demonstration program, the document reads.

Boeing did not respond to CongressNow’s request for comment.

In the meantime, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told lawmakers last week that the Air Force will revisit its decision to close out the C-17 production line next year in light of the president’s recent decision to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps.

“At some point, we do have to stop the production of the airplane, and all of our analysis supported 180 airplanes,” England told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Defense on Feb. 28. “We’re now 10 above that.”

“The question is, ‘when do we stop production?’” England continued. “All the analysis indicates that we have a sufficient quantity. But as I indicated to the chairman, based on the fact that the force is growing, we will take a look at that study and update it.”

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