AMC commander discusses modernization, recapitalization issues|
by Maj. Dave Huxsoll
Air Mobility Command Public Affairs
11/23/2007 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Modernization of its aging fleet is one of the top priorities for Air Force leaders but it is complicated by program delays and budget limits, the commander of Air Mobility Command told members of the Logistics Officer Association in a speech here recently.
The rising costs of modernizing the C-5 Galaxy fleet, congressional prohibitions on retiring some older aircraft and the urgent need for a new tanker were among the topics Gen. Arthur Lichte covered during his remarks.
"When program timelines start slipping, we start losing money. We have to move our programs along on time and get them right the first time," the general said. "I'm tired of seeing our programs drag on and on, then having the Air Force have to respond to 'Why didn't you have this done sooner?'"
Using the KC-10 Extender as an illustration, he explained the impact program delays and cost overruns can have on the mission.
"Ten years ago we said 'If we modernize the KC-10, that will be our bridge to the next KC-X (aerial tanker),'" he said. "(But) we attempted that, and we failed three times.
"$153 million dollars has gone into a black hole, and KC-10 hasn't been modernized. We can't do that anymore. We need to play hardball," General Lichte said.
The general said he favors modernizing and re-engining all of the command's C-5B aircraft, if they can be delivered at a reasonable cost, and acquiring a commensurate number of C-17 Globemaster IIIs to maintain a congressionally mandated fleet of inter-theater airlfters to meet worldwide mission requirements.
"I think we've passed the window to (modernize C-5A aircraft), because they will be too old, and we won't get much payback out of them," he said.
General Lichte also said the C-5 and C-17 are inextricably linked "because if we can't modernize the C-5s, we have to get more C-17s. It's our only alternative to meet our nation's airlift needs."
General Lichte said another challenge facing the Air Force and Air Mobility Command officials is congressional restrictions on retiring some older aircraft.
"This is tough," the general said. "This is affecting each and every one of us, and it's affecting the Airmen responsible for maintaining these aircraft out in the field. We need the authority to manage our inventory. For example, we need to retire our KC-135 (Stratotanker) E models -- their struts need repair. At the end of this year, we'll have 85 of them parked on our ramps, and we don't fly them."
Despite the aircraft being parked, he said, every seven days their tires must be rotated and every 45 days they must be towed and their engines run to keep them in a flyable status, as directed by law.
"This type of maintenance of old aircraft is costing money. As a matter of fact, it costs about $100,000 per aircraft per year. We need some relief from this," the general said.
General Lichte also addressed the importance of the KC-X, the replacement for KC-135 tankers, which have an average age of 46 years.
He said that even if the first (KC-X) aircraft is delivered on time in 2011, and 15 a year are delivered after that, the last KC-135 will leave the fleet in 2048, at an age of about 87 years. However, if the program runs into any problems and slips by just three years, and Air Force officials are unable to procure 15 aircraft a year, the last KC-135 will retire in the year 2082, when it is more than 120 years old.
"Each of us needs to articulate to our communities and our elected officials: tanker modernization is vitally important to national security," General Lichte told the officers.
Air Force tankers, he said, give the United States the unique ability to hold any target at risk, anywhere in the world, or reach out with an open hand to provide humanitarian aid.
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