|REPORT: RETIRING AIR FORCE C-5s TO BUY MORE C-17s NOT COST-EFFECTIVE|
Date: April 17, 2009
The Air Force will not save any money if it retires some of its oldest Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy cargo haulers and replaces them with newer Boeing C-17 airlifters, a congressionally mandated reported has concluded.
The Institute for Defense Analyses study also found that, under certain parameters, it would be more cost-effective to use the L-3 Communications-Alenia C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft over the Lockheed C-130J for intratheater airlift operations, according to the “Proper Mix of Fixed-Wing Airlift Assets.”
Lawmakers requested the in-depth study of the Air Force’s mobility fleet in the Fiscal Year 2008 Defense Authorization Act. The study’s findings were delivered to lawmakers on Capitol Hill last month. Inside the Air Force reviewed an unclassified summary of the report this week. The analysis comes just months before the Air Force completes its major Mobility Capability and Requirements Study-2016.
The new IDA report considered a variety of different modifications to the Air Force’s mobility fleet. The study looked at the effects of installing new engines on C-5A aircraft (the current plan calls for re-engining only newer C-5Bs), purchasing more C-17s, the tradeoffs among various tactical lift forces (C-130s, C-27s, and C-17s), using commercial airlift for military purposes in peacetime and wartime and utilizing tankers for cargo transport.
The Air Force’s current mobility program of record consists of 205 C-17s, 59 C-5As, 52 C-5Ms, 269 C-130Hs and 120 C-130Js. The service also intends to buy at least 24 C-27s.
The C-5 is the Air Force’s largest strategic airlifter, followed by the C-17. The quad-turbo prop C-130 is the service’s primary tactical airlifter. The service intends to use the twin-prop C-27s for special operations and light-airlift missions.
All of the service’s airlifters -- with the exception of the C-130E -- are structurally sound until the 2030s, according to the report. C-17s and C-5s have structural service lives beyond 2040.
The fleet “is adequate in meeting the benchmark requirements identified in the [2005 Mobility Capability Study] for moderate acceptable risk,” the report states. “Three different computer models used in the study produced somewhat different results for deliveries. The most pessimistic results matched MCS benchmark results, and with other models, lower force levels than programmed also met the MCS benchmark level.”
The study considered 36 alternative mixes and sizes and compared them both in cost and effectiveness with the program of record. The study identified several “relatively inexpensive ways” of generating higher capability from the existing force without buying more planes.
Purchasing “additional C-17s were not needed to meet the MCS moderate-acceptable-risk delivery rates used as a benchmark by the analyses conducted here,” the report states.
The IDA findings come at a critical juncture following Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ announcement last week that his FY-10 budget proposal recommends ending C-17 production at 205 aircraft. That figure has been debated over the last few years with some Air Force generals contending that the service could use more Globemaster IIIs. The Pentagon has attempted to end C-17 production several times over the past few years, but Congress ended up inserting money for additional aircraft during its review of several Pentagon spending requests.
IDA concluded that it would be highly expensive to restart the C-17 line once production is stopped.
“We also found that retiring C-5As to release funds to buy and operate more C-17s is not cost-effective,” the study concluded.
In 2007, Air Mobility Command officials floated a “30-30 proposal” -- which called for the unrestricted retirement of 30 C-5As and replacing them with 30 C-17s acquired through a multiyear contract.
“A small amount of additional capability could be achieved if all C-5s are converted through Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program (RERP) to C-5Ms,” the report states. “This alternative is at comparable life-cycle cost to that of the [program of record]; near-term acquisition costs are almost repaid over time in later years by reduced operating and support costs.”
Since the Air Force determines its airlift and other force requirements based on wartime demands, some models used in the study found the retirement of some of the oldest C-5As could help free up cash.
“If the appropriate acquisition planning scenarios are not [major combat operations] but are high tempo non-MCO operations such as in Iraq and Afghanistan today, we find that some C-5As could be retired to save [operating and support] costs with no loss in capability for those missions,” the report states.
“Moreover, a more cost-effective fleet than the [program of record] is one that, in addition to having fewer C-5As, uses the smaller C-27Js instead of the larger C-130Js. These observations are driven by the need for numerous geographically separated, but small loads during non-MCO operations, as currently anticipated in DOD planning scenarios,” it adds.
Researchers looked at a number of ways to increase productivity of the Air Force’s current fleet of mobility aircraft. The service could achieve 2 percent to 4 percent more productivity by flying C-5s at “wartime planning levels” meaning they could carry more fuel or cargo, depending on the mission.
Using the Civil Reserve Air Fleet to transport oversized cargo could free up C-5 and C-17 strategic airlifters that could then carry larger items thus increasing productivity by 10 percent. Utilizing host-nation aircraft adds another 4 percent to 5 percent and using tankers not tasked with aerial refueling missions could add another 4 percent.
“Use of these capabilities could also allow for a smaller strategic fleet that still meets MCS benchmark delivery requirements,” the report notes.
In the meantime, the Air Force’s Mobility Capability and Requirements Study-2016 will recommend new investment decisions for mobility aircraft. Using wargaming parameters, the study will determine the best mix and use of mobility aircraft during combat. The study’s preliminary findings are due this spring, and a final report is expected by the end of the year. -- Marcus Weisgerber