C-5A swap for new C-17s has hitch

Ten more C-17 Globemasters are heading to Air Force flight lines, but there are strings attached.

Air Force leaders have said they want to retire one C-5A Galaxy for each of the 10 new C-17s, which were approved by Congress and the president in December as part of the 2010 budget.

Also included in the budget is about $5.8 billion for other new aircraft and upgrades.

The $2.5 billion investment in C-17s was added by lawmakers supportive of the aircraft and the 5,000 workers who build them at Boeing’s plant in Long Beach, Calif.

The Air Force hasn’t budgeted for the aircraft, so the service is scrambling to figure out how to pay for them. The Air Force’s 59 C-5As, badly in need of upgrades to improve reliability, have become a likely target for the budget ax. In recent years, the mission-capable rate for C-5As fell below 50 percent, meaning that more than half of them were broken and could not fly.

Congress is not yet convinced that the C-5A is a hopeless cause, and has directed the Air Force to justify retiring any of its C-5As.

The Galaxy can carry about 60 percent more cargo than a C-17 — 270,000 pounds compared with the C-17’s 170,000 pounds — and fly farther without refueling. If engine and avionics upgrades will improve reliability, then the Air Force should take another look at the cost of equipping all of its C-5As with them, lawmakers said in approving the 2010 budget.

A lone C-5A, called the C-5M Super Galaxy, has been upgraded with the new engines and avionics and is undergoing tests at Dover Air Force Base, Del. The tests are scheduled to finish this year.

In 2008, Air Force leaders canceled plans to improve more than one C-5A because of estimated costs of about $148 million per plane. The service now intends to upgrade only newer versions of the C-5 — 47 C-5Bs and the two C-5Cs.

If the Air Force decides retiring C-5As is the best option, the service will have to map out how the retirements will affect Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units flying Galaxys, according to a directive included in the 2010 budget.


The 2010 defense budget pays for most of the new planes and helicopters requested by the Defense Department. What the Air Force is getting, in addition to 10 C-17s:

* $544 million for five RQ-4 Global Hawks.

* $489 million for 24 MQ-9 Reapers.

* $80 million for an unspecified number of MQ-1 Predators.

* $2.3 billion for 10 F-35 Lightning IIs (the Navy and Marine Corps receive a combined 20 planes).

* $600 million for five CV-22 Ospreys.

* $905 million for five tanker versions of the C-130 and a green light to start “advance procurement” for 20 more C-130s.

* $140 million for five HH-60G helicopters to replace aircraft that crashed since 2001.

* $319 million for eight C-27J transports owned and operated by the Air National Guard.

* $116 million for continued research into installing new engines on E-8 Joint-STARS reconnaissance planes.

* $306 million for development of the KC-X tanker.