The Corner

Will Congress Pull the Plug on C-17’s Life Support?

Having canceled nearly 50 major programs in last year’s defense budget, the secretary of defense is making another run at finishing off the C-17 and Joint Strike Fighter alternate engine. Congress spared these programs last year, but may be willing to go along with Secretary Gates this time around.

 

Certainly President Obama has changed his tune. During the presidential campaign, he singled out the C-17 as a must-have priority, saying America needed it to “preserve global reach in the air.” Now, however, the Pentagon says it has enough “lift” without it. Odd, considering that the Army and Marine Corps are still adding personnel.

 

It’s simple math: To move more extra troops (and their heavy gear, including Abrams tanks and Apache helicopters), you need extra lift to get them to places like Haiti, Chile, and Afghanistan. And that lift can be handy on the home front too: witness the welcome service of the C-17s that recently provided support to those devastated by the Gulf Coast oil spill.

 

The C-17 is the last remaining military wide-bodied cargo production line in America. What happens when we need those highly-skilled engineers and designers in the future? It’s a serious question, yet the administration’s response is a bland and unsupported assurance that, if we need ’em, we’ll surely be able to find ’em somewhere in the private sector.

 

That assertion defies logic. The last U.S. bomber-production facility is now home to a Walmart. Once closed, these facilities and their talented workforce will disperse and disappear. Even if Humpty Dumpty could be put back together again, the cost of restarting a shut-down C-17 line is estimated at $5.7 billion, hardly a savings for the Defense Department in the long-run.

 

Finally, the U.S. needs more C-17s due to sheer attrition. In times of war, military equipment wears out five to six times faster than in peacetime, and the C-17s have been getting a heavy workout for eight straight years. The current fleet will have to be retired from service much faster than planned. Many will reach the end of their programmed service lives in just twelve years.

 

It takes two years lead time to order supplies for aircraft assembly. A lapse in production would create a serious capability gap — and wind up costing taxpayers more in the long run. Congress should tell the Pentagon to place its C-17 replacement orders now, as part of the 2011 defense budget. Indeed, it should be ordering additional C-17s just to keep up with readily foreseeable demand.

Most Popular

Film & TV

Why We Can’t Have Wakanda

SPOILERS AHEAD Black Panther is a really good movie that lives up to the hype in just about every way. Surely someone at Marvel Studios had an early doubt, reading the script and thinking: “Wait, we’re going to have hundreds of African warriors in brightly colored tribal garb, using ancient weapons, ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Obstruction Confusions

In his Lawfare critique of one of my several columns about the purported obstruction case against President Trump, Gabriel Schoenfeld loses me — as I suspect he will lose others — when he says of himself, “I do not think I am Trump-deranged.” Gabe graciously expresses fondness for me, and the feeling is ... Read More
Science & Tech

Set NASA Free

The Trump administration has proposed shifting the International Space Station from a NASA-exclusive research facility to a semi-public, semi-private one. Its plan would nix all government funding for the ISS by 2025 and award at least $150 million per year to NASA to help with the transition. This would be a ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Students’ Anti-Gun Views

Are children innocents or are they leaders? Are teenagers fully autonomous decision-makers, or are they lumps of mental clay, still being molded by unfolding brain development? The Left seems to have a particularly hard time deciding these days. Take, for example, the high-school students from Parkland, ... Read More
PC Culture

Kill Chic

We live in a society in which gratuitous violence is the trademark of video games, movies, and popular music. Kill this, shoot that in repugnant detail becomes a race to the visual and spoken bottom. We have gone from Sam Peckinpah’s realistic portrayal of violent death to a gory ritual of metal ripping ... Read More