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Project on Government Oversight

Pentagon Report Rebukes Air Force Demands for More C-17s; More C-17s are "Unaffordable," Unnecessary

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February 21, 2008

The Department of Defense rebuked Air Force demands for more C-17 cargo planes in favor of upgrading C-5s, according to a February 14, 2008, Pentagon letter and supporting documentation to Congress obtained by POGO and made publicly available for the first time.

According to the letter from John Young, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, to various congressional committees: "the Department reviewed several options for procuring additional C-17 aircraft and rejected those options as not meeting requirements and more costly to the taxpayer.  Further, the higher costs of options procuring additional C-17s are unaffordable in the Future Years Defense Program."  The Air Force wants more than the 198 C-17s total they are currently projected to have.

"This is the latest salvo in a shoot-out between the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Air Force over the Air Force's constant grab for more planes," said Nick Schwellenbach, national security investigator at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).  "The Air Force continues to seek a budget that is not justified by an analysis of national security needs—a result, in part, of the Air Force's now-regular end-run of the budget process.  This document dings the Air Force case for more C-17s."

In the latest Air Force budget documents submitted to Congress, there is no mention of the 2005 Mobility Capability Study—the most recent completed analyses for air transport needs—that have stated that 180 C-17s are all that are necessary within an acceptable measure of risk.  The Defense Department has at least one major study underway to re-examine air transport needs, given the proposed increase in the size of U.S. ground forces and the faster wearing out of planes in wartime.

Also, the Air Force's current unfunded requirements list, or wish list, contradicts its last year's list on the C-17.  The Air Force requested 2 C-17s in its wish list last year, and said that its "Objective is 192 C-17 aircraft" through the end of the Future Years Defense Plan. The FYDP is a projection five years out from the current year of what the Air Force plans to procure and is a key planning document for determining Pentagon budget priorities.

Though the Air Force now will get 198 C-17s, 6 C-17s in excess of their previously stated objective, they are now seeking 15 more; justified simply to keep "only [the] active strategic airlift production line open," according to this year's unfunded  requirements list. The biggest single request in the Air Force's wish list this year is for 15 C-17s, clocking in at $3.9 billion.

"This is all evidence that the Air Force lacks an affordable, consistent and coherent airlift procurement strategy and will once again raise the issue of Air Force favoritism towards Boeing," said Schwellenbach.  

Indeed there is an active investigation of whether or not the Air Force has been improperly conspiring with Boeing to keep the C-17 production line open by sharing and allowing industry to shape its program objective memorandum (POM).  The POM is an internal planning document, generated by the Department to help build up its budget request, and is not supposed to be influenced by, or otherwise reflect discussions with, industry.

As noted last year in a letter from Senator John McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, to the Department of Defense Inspector General, "the Air Force appears to be facilitating what can be expected to be, by definition, a huge earmark." It appears this is occurring yet again.

The Air Force's request for financing the C-17 program has been called an "ad-hoc crapshoot" by Rep. Neil Abercrombie, chairman of the House Armed Services Air and Land subcommittee.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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