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Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2010 - Conference Report - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.


Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Mr. President, I come to the floor essentially to oppose the McCain amendment to the Defense appropriations bill, which would stop production of the C-17 Globemaster III Airlifter.

The McCain amendment would cut funding approved by the Appropriations Committee to maintain an important national asset in the C-17 program.

Without the inclusion of this funding, the production line would begin to shut down this year, and the last plane would roll off the line in mid 2011, as opposed to mid 2012 if these additional 10 planes, which are in the Defense bill, are, in fact, funded.

I believe the funding is important, and the risk of losing the production line without filling the C-17 need is real. The concern is timing. If this amendment passes, suppliers will be notified within months that their contracts have been terminated. It will become virtually impossible to restart production.

By then it will be too late to take into account the impending Quadrennial Defense Review, the QDR, and a Mobility Capabilities Requirement Study which will assess whether, in fact, we truly have enough C-17s in the fleet. It is my view that failure to fund this aircraft would be a tremendous blow to the future readiness of the military.

Now, why do I say that? The C-17 has been essential to our combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as humanitarian missions worldwide.

It is the most flexible and versatile transport in the U.S. military today and the only one capable of flying troops and cargo directly from air bases here to the front lines of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Even more important is what the C-17 carries on the way back from the front line. It is a vital component of aeromedical evacuations of our troops to Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany.

Finally, it should not be forgotten that the C-17 contributes to peacekeeping and humanitarian relief missions worldwide. It has become a welcome site to victims of the tsunamis in Asia and the victims of hurricanes along the gulf coast. But that alone is not enough to justify it. Simply put, as former Air Force Chief of Staff, GEN Mike Moseley, has said: ``The C-17 is worth its weight in gold.''

With so many capabilities and so many complimentary things said about it, it is no surprise the Air Force has been ``flying the wings off the C-17.''

To make this point, let me read from the House committee report for the 2010 Defense appropriations bill.

The C-17 is the workhorse of the theater, flying 50 percent of all sorties for the U.S. Transportation Command over the last 24 months. While the aircraft is designed to fly 1,000 hours per year over 30 years, over the last 10 years the C-17 fleet has averaged 1,250 hours per aircraft, with some aircraft flying in excess of 2,400 hours in a single year.

That is over 200 percent more. This heavy usage is reducing the expected service life of the aircraft.

So what does this mean? It means C-17s are being utilized much more than anticipated. It means the C-17 is carrying more of the workload than expected. It means C-17s flown today may not be available for as long as we thought they would.

This brings us to the second issue. If not the C-17, what are the other options available?

The C-17 is a complement to a decades-old military transport, the C-5. The oldest C-5As are an average of 39 years old and will require literally billions of dollars in engine and avionics upgrades to keep flying. We don't yet know the exact cost, but as with many modernization programs, it will likely only go up.

The GAO clearly stated last year that DOD would need to fully modernize seven C-5s to attain the equivalent capability achieved from acquiring one C-17 and the cost would be three times more. So we need to modernize seven C-5s at three times the cost of a new C-17 to get the equivalent capability of one C-17. This makes no sense to me.

The C-5A has been unreliable, with a readiness rate barely over 50 percent. The Air Force has been asking for years for authorization to retire some of the aircraft. As those aircraft are retired, the C-17 will be expected to cover the gap left behind.

So we have to ask: How are taxpayer dollars better spent? Are they better spent maintaining and upgrading a 40-year-old, unreliable aircraft at three times the cost, or are they better spent adding C-17s to an already overtaxed fleet? I believe the answer is clear.

Those in Congress who advocate for shutting down the line are doing so prematurely.

Later this year, a Mobility Capability Requirements Study will be released that will address the future airlift needs of the military. One thing we know this country lacks is strategic lift. By that I mean to rapidly move troops and equipment to wherever those troops and equipment are needed. The staging of a military operation takes time because we lack strategic lift.

The Department of Defense is also actively working on the next Quadrennial Defense Review which will take a comprehensive picture of what tools our forces will need in the coming years.

Previous studies that have analyzed our airlift needs did not take into account planned increases in the number of Army and Marine Corps personnel.

We have more troops that need to be moved, including 30,000 additional personnel authorized by the Senate during consideration of the Defense authorization bill in July. These studies also did not take into account new combat vehicle programs for the Army as well as the needs of the new Africa command.

All of this has to be figured into this mobility review. In fact, the GAO has expressed concern about the calculations used by the Defense Department's previous studies and recommended significant changes for the next mobility capabilities study.

The GAO also found that because the Department of Defense did not identify specific airlift requirements in its previous mobility capabilities study, it could not determine how the DOD concluded that the current number of C-5s and C-17s was adequate. That is the basis on which the Pentagon has weighed in saying we will do with what we have, in essence. The GAO is saying that no specific airlift requirements in the previous study were even considered on which one could base a recommendation such as ``leave it as it is.''

To me, this indicates we are not in a position to shut down the last strategic airlift production line in the country.

I understand this has been identified as a congressional jobs program. To a great extent, I disagree with that view. There are many of us who have followed the C-17 program for years. We know what a mistake it would be to end production of this aircraft prematurely.

The distinguished chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee, Senator Inouye, agrees. Therefore, the committee has added these 10 planes, $2.5 billion in the bill for these 10 additional C-17s.

In his introductory statement for this bill, he identified other times the Defense Department was wrong to determine a program termination, and he listed the F-117 stealth fighter, which was a great tool in fighting in the Gulf War and Bosnia; the V-22 Osprey, now a favorite of the Marine Corps; and Central Command, which the Department proposed eliminating.

It is clear the Department of Defense doesn't always get it right. Already we know we may be faced with a White House request to add another 40,000 troops that will need to be air lifted to Afghanistan. Whether that happens or not, I don't know. But I do know we have a remaining 8,000 to complement the 60,000 already there who need to get to Afghanistan before the end of the year.

Earlier this year, the administration fought hard against programs they felt were not necessary. This included aircraft such as the F-22 which, it was argued, was not being used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead they advocated for systems that support the current missions of the military. That is what the C-17 does.

The C-17 is being used at 125 percent of its anticipated flying hours in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is the only aircraft capable of flying many of the missions the Air Force is asked to fly. That is exactly the kind of system we need more of. It takes troops, supplies, equipment directly to the front lines where it can land on unpaved runways and on runways nearly half the length of those needed to land a C-5. That is a real asset because it means we get closer with the troops, the supplies, the equipment to where they need to go.

Finally, from a business perspective, keeping the line open preserves the option for several other countries to purchase C-17s of their own.

Other governments are actively pursuing contracts to buy C-17s. The opportunity to maintain good-paying U.S. jobs would be lost if the line is shut down. Ten planes, one plane a month, essentially keep the line open for approximately an additional year over when it would shut down otherwise.

When I think where our military investment should go, I agree it should go toward ensuring we have the capability to bring our troops and supplies to where they must fight and where they are needed, to bring our injured servicemembers to the medical care they require, and to maintain a program that sees heavy use in supporting the wars we are fighting today.

This is exactly the wrong time to remove these 10 C-17s which are already in the Defense appropriations bill. The future is uncertain. It is uncertain with respect to Afghanistan, with respect to Pakistan, with respect to Iran, with respect still to Iraq, with respect to a number of other places in the world.

Where we are short is strategic airlift. The most efficient, most effective airlifter we have is the C-17. I strongly support its inclusion in this bill, and I thank the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, the distinguished Senator from Hawaii, DANIEL INOUYE.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.


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