Only an organization in desperate straits would even think of turning down a business deal that would lower its costs and provide it additional resources. Yet, that is exactly what the Department of Defense is doing. The Pentagon is short of money for the war in Iraq, the transformation of the military and the replacement of aging or battle-worn equipment. The Air Force, for example, is trying to figure out how it can simultaneously pay for two new fighter programs, procure a new generation of tankers, invest in unmanned aerial vehicles and meet the demand for airlift by a globally deployed military. Budget limitations are forcing the Pentagon to cut back or even eliminate critical programs.
So when a private company offers to use its own money to acquire a commercial variant of a military aircraft, thereby lowering the price to the Air Fore while simultaneously creating a capability on which the military can call in an emergency, one would think the Air Fore would jump at the chance. No way. Instead, the Air Force blocked such efforts for the past four years.
The company in question, Cargo Force, wants to buy at least 25 and possibly 80 C-17s, the Air Force’s premier long-range transport aircraft. The commercial C-17s would be used to carry high volume and heavy/outsized cargo. Because of the aircraft’s unique handling characteristics, it could use hundreds of airfields around the world that are too small for large commercial aircraft. This could be big business, employing tens of thousands around the country and generating billions of dollars of revenue a year
Cargo Force’s proposal has some real advantages for the Pentagon. Their purchase of C-17s would spread the program’s fixed costs over a larger number of aircraft, thereby reducing the price of each one, including those bought by the Air Force. Cargo Force’s aircraft could be made a part of the civil air reserve fleet thereby making them available to the Air Force should the need arise. The Nation would get more C-17s at a better price.
The Air Force is resisting a good deal because it hopes to convince the Pentagon and Congress to pay for more C-17s. The current approved plan is for 180 C-17s. However, the Air Force believes that at least 220 are needed to meet mobility requirements. There are studies underway to determine the appropriate number. But the Air Force does not want to risk its chances of reaching the magic target by allowing a private concern to buy C-17s.
The Cargo Force proposal is likely to mean more than 180 C-17s for the Air Force and an additional number in commercial use, available to the military, if needed. This is a good deal for everyone, including the taxpayer. The Air Force needs to rethink its priorities, particularly at a time of tightening defense budgets.
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