Sunday, February 17, 2008


The Air Force's troubled C-5 modernization program got a bit of good news the other day, with word that 47 of the newer airlifters will receive both engine and avionics upgrades.

John Young, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, signed off on the plan Thursday, according to Delware Senator Tom Carper. A press release from Carper's office announced that the service's C-5Bs, built during the 1980s, will get new engines and improved avionics under the program. More than 50 older C-5As, which date from the 1970s, will receive the avoinics upgrade.

Carper has been a strong supporter of modernizing the C-5 fleet, which includes jets based at Dover AFB in his home state.

Under the original proposal, both C-5A and B models were slated for full upgrades. But severe cost overruns put the program in jeopardy. A limited modernization for the C-5A is expected to save the Pentagon more than $10 billion. The cost estimate for the revised upgrade program is now pegged at $7.7 billion, compared to last year's $17.5 billion price tag for modernizing the entire C-5 fleet.

But the pared-down upgrade program will leave the service with large numbers of older C-5s that are anything but fuel-efficient. Engine upgrades are supposed to improve the Galaxy's fuel efficiency by at least 15%, but those savings won't be realized among the A models, operated mostly by Air Guard and Air Force Reserve units.

A partial modernization of the C-5 fleet is better than nothing. But it also leaves the Air Force in something of a quandry. With limited purchases of the new C-17, the service needs C-5s to transport out-sized cargo and heavy loads. But without new engines, the C-5As will prove increasingly expensive to operate, at a time when jet fuel prices are rising steadily. We wonder how much of the money "saved" by limiting upgrades for the C-5A will be consumed by higher operating costs over the next couple of decades.

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