Sunday, June 27, 2010

C-17 Might Extend Boeing’s Military Airlifter Line

Aviation Week & Space Technology Jun 28 , 2010 , p. 48
Neelam Mathews
New Delhi
Robert Wall
Andy Nativi

Boeing ponders C-17 derivative, but exports hold the most promise
Printed headline: Lifting Fortunes

Boeing is once again renewing proposals for a C-17 derivative to try to maintain its military airlifter business line.

The latest iteration is the C-17FE concept. The “FE,” which stands for fuel efficient, would have a narrower fuselage by several feet than the aircraft now in production. It also would involve lightening of the structure through use of composites. The goal is to meet the nominal Joint Future Theater Lift (JFTL) program threshold.

U.S. Army/Air Force directives would impact the design as their needs evolve. But the ultimate aim is to meet 99% of the JFTL requirement with the C-17FE.

PiX-The first three of six C-130Js, due to arrive in India by year-end, are being assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Marietta, Ga., factory.Credit: LOCKHEED MARTIN

The concept “is fairly advanced,” with the same engines, tails and wing, says Tommy Dunehew, vice president for global mobility systems business development. Still, Boeing is reluctant to disclose too many details for fear of tipping off rivals in the JFTL effort.

The FE concept effectively supplants the C-17B design. It represents Boeing’s primary C-17 evolution effort, with plans for the commercial cargo offering that could be FAA-certified by removing some military features that are now largely on hold.

Even so, the near-term focus remains on export potential for the airlifter and that is where the Indian campaign is key. Approval of India’s C-17 purchase is still expected this year. Having those aircraft on contract would allow Boeing to keep production of the airlifter alive past the scheduled September 2012 line shutdown, set to occur once the current foreign orders are delivered and the last of the 223 C-17s for the U.S. Air Force is handed over. Boeing believes there are 30-50 more international C-17 orders that may be secured if they can just keep the line open. Chris Chardwick, president of Boeing Military Aircraft, is confident that if the line stays open long enough, the U.S. Air Force may come back for more aircraft while it mulls the future of the C-5 fleet.

India and the U.S. have not signed a Communications, Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement that would allow India to acquire advanced communications equipment and basic exchanges for geospatial data, but Dunehew does not believe that would be a stumbling block.

The Indian deal would likely contribute to two more years of production. To further stretch the life of the production line, Boeing is slowing the build of C-17s from a rate of 15 aircraft per year. It will still deliver 14 this year—from a peak of 15 before. Production will cover 13 units in 2011, then 10 in 2012, says Dunehew. The goal is to keep pricing flat, even at the lower rate.

A candidate for further orders is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an operator of a three-aircraft fleet. Dunehew sees an opportunity for the fleet to double. With the fate of the Airbus Military A400M airlifter on a firmer footing in Europe, Boeing anticipates that countries that had been opposed to a larger NATO C-17 fleet—in part to protect the A400M—will no longer block such an expansion.

Dunehew is even optimistic about replicating such an arrangement in Asia, particularly among the Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) countries. The political hurdles in Asia remain more complex, though, than those in Europe.

Dunehew says discussions are underway with five to six customers; India’s proposed deal is in the most advanced stage. South Africa also is seen as a candidate now that it has pulled out of the A400M effort.

The Indian market is proving to be a boon for many contractors. Lockheed Martin officials now say the country is looking into in the company’s WC-130J weather reconnaissance aircraft. Such a deal would be in addition to a planned purchase of six C-130Js for the Indian air force later this year.

With its own severe tropical storms to track, India has the same need for aircraft like the WC-130J as the so-called Hurricane Hunters of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Sqdn. of the 403rd Wing, which uses the aircraft to track storms over the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and Atlantic and Pacific oceans from Kessler AFB, Miss. “There is a huge interest from the Indian air force for the WC-130, which is readily available,” says Lockheed Martin CEO-India Roger Rose. “Since we [already] are contracted with the C-130J, it could be a follow-on [order].” Clearance would be much easier to obtain, he says, since it is a variant of the C-130J.

Lockheed Martin’s hopes are raised by the fact the India-Russian UAC/HAL Il-214 twin-engine transport development (led by the Ilyushin Design Bureau) is not viewed as a suitable platform for the weather reconnaissance mission.

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