Study Urges Pentagon to Drop C-17s, Buy Cargo 747s : Military: RAND Corp. says billions could be saved. Air Force, McDonnell Douglas dispute some of the report’s findings.

<i> from Associated Press</i>

The Pentagon should scrap plans to buy more C-17 transport planes and instead buy cargo versions of the Boeing 747, says a report commissioned by the Air Force.

The study by the RAND Corp., a Santa Monica think tank, says the government would save billions and deliver more equipment to a battlefront faster with the 747s than with the fleet of 120 C-17s that the Air Force envisions. A copy of the study was obtained this week by the Associated Press.

The Air Force and McDonnell Douglas Corp., the builder of the C-17, disputed some of the study’s assumptions and findings, which were based on research conducted in 1992 and updated this year.


Despite problems in its development and performance, the C-17 has thus far escaped outright cancellation. The Pentagon said Friday it will squeeze $7.7 billion out of its top weapons programs by canceling a troubled missile effort, cutting some money from the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jet and building only two prototypes of the Army’s high-tech Comanche helicopter.

The reductions are far less severe than the estimated $20 billion that had been feared before President Clinton’s decision last week to pump an extra $25 billion into the Pentagon budget in the next six years.

Beneath the dry, technical language of the C-17 study looms a battle involving three of the nation’s largest aerospace companies: McDonnell Douglas, which builds the C-17 in Southern California; Seattle-based Boeing Co., manufacturer of the 747, and Lockheed Corp., which hopes to revive production of the huge C-5 Galaxy transport plane in Marietta, Ga.

Top Pentagon officials plan to decide next fall whether to buy more than 40 C-17s or find an alternative. The Air Force needs a new plane to replace 244 C-141 transports, planes that date to the early 1960s. Military planners say 120 of the larger C-17s would be needed to replace that fleet.

“We found that the Air Force could conserve resources and still meet our assessment of future intertheater airlift needs by buying fewer C-17s than planned and buying a civil-style transport with long-range capability to carry bulk cargo and oversize equipment,” the RAND report says.

Buying 64 Boeing 747-400Fs, a cargo version of the jumbo jet, would enable the Air Force to increase the tonnage of equipment it could transport and save the government $10 billion over 25 years, according to the study.


And in a major blow to proponents of the C-17, the report contended that the plane’s ability to land at remote, unpaved airfields--a key selling point of the aircraft--is little different than the much larger C-5.

Air Force officials disputed aspects of the study.

“We don’t think their conclusions are relevant,” said a senior Air Force official. The official said the report uses the Persian Gulf War as a model, whereas the U.S. military today has far fewer troops stationed in Europe and would need to transport more power a longer distance in the future.

McDonnell Douglas spokesman Larry McCracken said RAND was too quick to discount crucial advantages of the C-17, including its ability to land on shorter runways, airdrop supplies, maneuver in tight spaces on the ground, carry large cargo such as tanks and Patriot missile batteries, and refuel in the air.

The 40 C-17s already in service or on order will cost $21.3 billion or $533 million per plane. This year’s defense budget contains funding for six C-17s and advance procurement funding for eight more next year, bringing the total to 40.