Australia’s fifth Boeing C-17 Globemaster airlifter could be in service as soon as the third quarter of this year, according to Deputy Chief of Air Force AVM Geoff Brown.
Defence Minister Stephen Smith announced plans to acquire the fifth C-17 on the eve of this month’s Avalon Airshow, with the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency subsequently notifying Congress on March 9 of the possible sale, saying the “…aircraft and associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support,” including “…four Pratt & Whitney F117-PW-100 engines, one AN/AAQ-24V(13) Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) system, spare and repair parts, supply and test equipment, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, United States government and contractor engineering, logistics, and technical support services, and other related elements of logistics support,” would cost “an estimated [US]$300 million.”
AVM Brown told Australian Aviation at the Avalon Airshow that a USAF tail number could be allocated to the RAAF, and that the USAF may be flexible in allowing the RAAF to take an aircraft already under construction.
He added that a fifth C-17 would increase the RAAF’s airlift capability dramatically, particularly in light of its performance supporting the ADF in Afghanistan, and on recent local and regional humanitarian missions. “When you talk about strategic weight, you normally talk in terms of the fighter strike capability,” AVM Brown said. “But what we’ve found with the C-17 is that it’s a really strategic weight aeroplane, because you can respond so fast to humanitarian issues and you can take so much equipment there.”
A fifth aircraft will also bring a much better balance to the RAAF’s small C-17 fleet, operated by 36SQN at RAAF Amberley west of Brisbane. The first aircraft – A41-206 – is almost five years old, and all four of the original fleet will soon enter long heavy maintenance cycles in the US, one after the other.
“For a fleet size, four isn’t an economical number,” DCAF noted. “And we’re approaching a period where the existing C-17 fleet enters the deeper maintenance (DM) cycle, so that was one of the considerations influencing the latest decision. It is a six-month DM cycle, which the aircraft rotate through one after the other – one extra aeroplane means we will maintain the availability of four aircraft. Just one C-17 is so capable – if you are one aircraft down, you have lost a lot of capability. It will give us the ability to keep a more consistent fleet available through the life cycle of the aeroplane. AVM Brown also noted that the RAAF and ADF as a whole had not fully appreciated until recently the additional capabilities the C-17 could bring to the table when compared to the C-130 and other types.
“When we first received the C-17, I suppose we hadn’t fully developed the operational concept and didn’t know all the things it could do,” he said. “But we’ve found the capability is so useful, especially in the joint mix, it has really exceeded our expectations. It is actually proven to be such a reliable piece of kit, that Headquarters Joint Operations Command asked us to reconsider Air 8000. They are really the prime user of the capability. The Army has moved to heavier vehicles because of the IED threat, and that is where C-17 comes into its own. It made a lot of sense.”