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Reports: NZ considering C-17 acquisition

written by australianaviation.com.au | December 22, 2014

Three RAAF C-17s at Yokota, Japan. (Dept of Defence)
Three RAAF C-17s at Yokota, Japan during the Japan tsunami recovery effort. The RAAF will soon have up to 10 C-17s in service. (Dept of Defence)

Media reports in New Zealand have indicted the NZ Defence Force may be considering acquiring between two and four C-17s to replace its C-130H Hercules and Boeing 757 transports in service.

First reported with little accompanying detail on Auckland’s Radio ZB on December 13, the story has spread across social media in the past week, particularly after a December 16 article in Flightglobal which stated there was an order pending for two of the 10 ‘white tail’ C-17s Boeing is building from an “undisclosed customer”.

Australia requested four of the white tails in a November 12 US Defense Security Cooperation Acquisition (DSCA) notification, while Canada has confirmed it is seeking one additional C-17 (dubbed CC-177 in RCAF service) to take its fleet to five. Boeing is closing the C-17 production line in 2015 and has built the white tail aircraft, so-called as they were built without an order, in anticipation of being able to sell them to new and existing customers. Other potential customers reportedly included Algeria, India (which already has 10 C-17s in service or on order), the UK, and interest from current and new Middle Eastern C-17 operators such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.

New Zealand identified a requirement to replace its C-130Hs and 757s in its latest Defence Capability Plan  released in June in which it said the “project will consider all options to maintain the current range of capabilities including strategic and tactical transport of people and cargo, airdrop, low level and high level missions, aero-medical evacuation, and backup search and rescue capabilities.”

Until recently it was thought the Airbus A400M was a potential front-runner to replace the C-130Hs, but anecdotal reports indicate there is still some concern in NZ over that aircraft’s relative immaturity and smaller customer base compared to the proven C-17.


While there has been no formal acknowledgement of the interest from NZ defence officials, the proposal has seen in principle support from NZ Labor opposition leader Phil Goff, but has been criticised by the minor New Zealand First Party. In a December 15 statement, New Zealand First defence spokesman Ron Mark  said his party was “stunned” at what he described as the “C-17 fantasy”.

“There’s no question the C-17 is a magnificent strategic airlift aircraft, but our needs are tactical not strategic,” Mark’s statement read.  “Worse, if we purchased only a couple of C-17’s, it is more likely these aircraft would combine with the Royal Australian Air Force in what our Prime Minister would talk up as some ‘ANZAC squadron’. It is cut, cut, cut in terms of operational capability, but above all, operational flexibility.”

While there has been no official talk of establishing an ‘Anzac squadron’ of C-17s, as Australia will soon have a fleet of up to 10 C-17s in service and USAF C-17s regularly visit Christchurch in support of US Antarctic interests, there is already an established support base in the region which can be leveraged to sustain a potential small fleet of Kiwi C-17s.

But at up to US$400m (NZ$517m) each including support infrastructure, spares and training, such an acquisition would comprise a huge chunk of the NZ annual defence budget of about NZ$3 billion.

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Comments (17)

  • Richard


    Combine ANZAC Squadron makes so much sense
    and the C-17 is a real asset to RNZAF and the
    Now all the RNZAF needs is a Strike Wing again
    bring back 75 Squadron, with some F-18E &Gs

  • Peter Bourke


    Andrew, how likely do you think it is that RNZAF would order any C-17s? I could understand them replacing the 757s with 2 C-17s, but replacing the C-130Hs as well would surely leave an unacceptable gap in their tactical airlift capability. Also: what is the status of the RAAF order?

  • Andrew McLaughlin


    Not sure of the likelihood sorry as I’m not across the NZ political and financial issues. But on face value it appears to be a smart move – these aircraft are true national assets which allow a small nation to punch well above their weight in humanitarian or coalition operations.

    Last I heard re Australia’s extra C-17s was the Nov DSCA announcement – I wouldn’t expect more news until perhaps Avalon or more likely the budget next May.

  • ngatimozart


    Andrew, the C130 the RNZAF operate are all H models with NZ 7001, 02 & 03 being the first three H models built.
    The NZ government has set aside NZ$16 billion over the next 15 years for recapitalisation of NZDF capabilities and new capabilities. Whether or not that is enough remains to be seen, especially with the P3, Protector Class and Frigate replacements etc., to come as well.
    One would suspect that only two C17s may be acquired if the NZG follow through with this then a second smaller type be acquired such as the A400, C130, C27J, C295 or a combination thereof. We will just have to wait and see.

    • Andrew McLaughlin


      Thanks, I saw the build dates and assumed E models. Now fixed.

  • Greg


    Believe it when I see it

  • Rocco


    Andrew, your last paragraph is confusing different budgets. The way budgeting works in NZ is that the lump-sum cost doesn’t hit annual budgets. Annual budgets fund depreciation and essentially what is the cost of capital of the Crown.

    • Andrew McLaughlin


      Always good to get the local gouge, thanks

  • newt


    F/A-18 never met expectations or requirements, which is why the A-7 and the F-14 it was supposed to replace kept flying for years after they were meant to be retired. It lacks range, speed, altitude, and payload capabilities relative to comparable teen-series aircraft. Canada and Australia bought the F-18 mostly because it was cheap, and because in Canada’s case there were significant industrial tradeoffs, and for Australia because the F-15E was not a version of the F-15 on offer. The E/G series is primarily an electronic warfare platform. F/A-18 is not a good choice for New Zealand. F-15SG or more realistically used F-15E ex USAF inventory is a far more sensible and practical option.

    An ANZAC airforce is plain stupid, unless you want to go the whole hog and become a state of Australia.

    C-17 as an additional capability would be an asset for New Zealand. As a replacement for C-130 and B757 it would be a stupid acquisition. Two planes can only be in two places at once. Five Hercs and two Boeings can be in seven places at once. C-17 is a cargo plane, B757 is configured as a passenger aircraft in RNZAF use. It was a poor choice at the time relative to B767 or even B737, but it is still a better passenger plane than a C-17.

    Sensible choice? Two to four refurbished C-5, six new A400M, 12 new C-27J, 18 new Orion 21, 36 used import F-15E, 24 new KAS F/A-50. B737 for VIP and passengers.

  • ARG


    It’s a no brainer get four at least….. Sounds like it is going to happen too.

  • Chris


    Never saw this one coming as I thought it would be the A400. If true it would be a great leap in air lift capability for NZ but also its closest allies (Australia, USA, Canada and UK) all fly the c17 and over the years they have been used in a way never envisaged especially in humanitarian operations. NZ needs something bigger than a C130 with the NH90 needing transportation but also for relief work in the Pacific and Asia.

    What is wrong with an Anzac Squadron? NATO shares some c17’s! The thing about the C17 is once a country gets it they will go back for more, sure NZ may need some smaller airlifters C27J but the C130’s are coming up 50 years old, when Viscounts and Friendships were flying the domestic routes in NZ.

    The 757 is a good plane as it has the range and passenger lift and this is evidenced by airlines still having nothing to match them on the Atlantic. With its performance and powerful engines it can fly into a Pacific Island with a good payload carrying fuel to get out again.

    The C17 will be a good Christmas present for the RNZAF.

  • Mal


    C-17 x 4 would be most sensible choice, augmented with passenger jets and/or smaller tactical air lift. I live in Christchurch. I lived through the Earthquakes here. The RAAF C-17’s were impressive (and HUGELY appreciated) for their capacity and the gear/personnel the bought. Equally impressive was the “shuttle” from Wellington to Christchurch with the RNZAF C130’s and B757’s. A take and landing every 10 – 15 minutes from an RNZAF aircraft bringing people out and bringing much needed supplies in speaks volumes for the importance of a fleet of the right aircraft, but equally important is having the right number. Having been on the receiving end of air logistics support, I would strongly advocate four of these awesome aircraft. That sort of number would be required to cover maintenance etc., anyway.

  • Karl


    Family within the RNZAF have said that reports are wrong regarding C-17s replacing the C130H , 757s could be on the chopping block but the C130s will carry onto the planned phase out date of 2025.
    Exciting times ahead hopefully for the RNZAF!

  • Patrick Alford


    As an Australian, I give support to the idea of an ANZAC C-17 squadron so we can help each other out.

    If NZ were to purchase C-130J’s as well it could benefit both nations, having common parts and spares.

  • Michael


    I gotta feeling the USAF will sell off some surplus C-17s once the white tails are accounted for. They recently deactivated two squadrons totalling 16 aircraft and assigned them as backups to other squadrons.

    They already have more C-17s than what they asked for and had to keep asking congress to stop adding more to the budget a few years ago. The US military is strapped for cash with all that sequestration business that went on recently and future programs that need funding. It would be a good way to make a billion or two that could go elsewhere.

  • Evan


    If true this will be excellent news for N.Z.
    I would put my money on the Govt buying 2 C-17s to replace the 2 Boeing 757s, and keeping the C-130 LEP until 2025 as this would make more sense, would bring us up to x7 Tactical Transport aircraft.
    You have to remember that the 5 C-130H has been upgraded and rebuilt up to J spec, so are basically a new aircraft anyway.
    We would then effectively have x2 C-17 heavy tactical air lifters that could carry x2 Nh-90s, or 130 troops, or x3 LAV 3 apcs in one hit.
    I doubt the N.Z govt would only bring us down to x2 C-17Tactical transports, wouldn’t be logical.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see the C-17 in service with the RNZAF as early as next year.

  • Paul



    OLD – NEW:

    2x 757 – 2x C17+2x BBJ or A330 circa 2015-2020

    5x C130H-LEP – 4x A400M or 4x C130J circa 2020-2025


    6x P3K – 4-6x P8 or 2x P8+4x C295 circa 2020-2025


    10-12x F35 circa 2020-2025

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