WASHINGTON — As part of the Air Force’s push to boost its number of operational squadrons to 386 total, and the service may need additional C-17s, the head of Air Mobility Command said Friday.
The service’s expansion plan, which was named “The Air Force We Need” and unveiled this September, called for one airlift squadron and 14 tanker squadrons to be added by 2030.
At the time, service leaders from Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to AMC Commander Gen. Maryanne Miller, said more work would need to be done in order to determine the mix of aircraft needed to get to the 386 squadron goal, which is 74 more than the service has now.
But now, AMC has a better idea of what it could require, Miller told reporters during an Oct. 26 roundtable.
The analysis from “The Air Force We Need” supports adding three new C-17 Globemaster III squadrons and cutting two C-130 Hercules squadrons from the airlift inventory, she said. That would bring the total number of airlift squadrons up to 54, an increase of one squadron.
But Boeing’s C-17 production line in Long Beach, California is dead, with the company having manufactured the final Globemaster in 2015. Increasing the number of C-17s could entail restarting the production line — an expensive proposition for any aircraft — but Miller said the Air Force had not yet begun discussing the possibility with Boeing.
"Those are the details that we have not looked at,” Miller said.
“That will be the next discussion as we proceed, talking with Congress and working with Congress, because the same would apply for the tanker fleet,” she said. “An additional 14 squadrons by 2030 — what would be the path to get there? Something we’re looking at, but again, this is just the initial stages of talking with Congress and getting this concept out there."
It’s unclear what other options would exist to increase the number of C-17 squadrons aside from restarting the production line. The U.S. Air Force currently operates 222 C-17s, but began retiring some of the oldest Globemaster IIIs in 2012. It may be possible that those C-17s could be taken out of storage and revitalized.
A spokeswoman for Boeing had no comment.
Miller stressed that discussions about the makeup of the future airlift fleet are still in the beginning stages, and will be informed not only by Congress but also by an ongoing AMC study.
That Mobility Capabilities Requirements Study is slated to be delivered to Capitol Hill in a couple of months, and may have different recommendations than the “Air Force We Need” analysis on how many airlift squadrons are needed, and of what aircraft models.
“The two studies took slightly different approaches to that,” she said. “The results of each of those studies will be reviewed and I think there will be a combination somewhere in there to try to validate the results of those studies put together.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.