Defense Secretary Robert Gates today praised the C-17 program -- but defended his proposal to stop buying the cargo planes. At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, concerns about the decision were raised by Sen. Kit Bond (R-MO), whose state is home to a Boeing facility where C-17 components are assembled. Bond griped it was a case of “ready, fire, aim.” He asked Gates to support the inclusion of “long lead time” funding for the C-17 in the fiscal year 2009 supplemental appropriations package.
But Gates said the Air Force and U.S. Transportation Command believe the military has more than enough capacity for airlift over the next decade or so. He also cited a legislative prohibition on decommissioning C-5A cargo planes. “As we look at the capacity that we have with those 59 C-5As and we get more and more C-17s we just are continuing to build excess capacity,” Gates said.
Even if Congress lifts the prohibition, the Air Force would have to look at what other priorities it would have to give up to buy more C-17s, according to Gates.
“It's a zero-sum game,” he said. Gates added he is trying to balance all these things to come up with the “maximum possible capability for the maximum range of potential conflict.”