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Washington, DC– At a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearing today, Air Force Chief of Staff, General T. Michael Moseley, said that the C-17 was “worth its weight in gold.”

This was in response to a question from U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) about the plane’s value as part of the United States’ strategic airlift capability.

“Today’s hearing leaves no doubt as to the value of the C-17 to our nation,” Senator Feinstein said. “As General Mosely indicated, the plane is ‘worth its weight in gold.’ This is just one more reason why I’ll do all I can to ensure that the production of C-17s in California continues.”

The following is the transcript of the exchange:

Senator Feinstein:

I wanted to ask my questions on the C-17. Obviously the C-17 is a very important program for California. It employs 6,500 people. It’s got 400 suppliers. It’s a 3.7 billion dollar asset to the State. But you have termed it a “golden plane,” and it certainly has provided its service in many different ways.

It’s my understanding that the Air Force requests funding for both advanced procurement of additional C-17s along with money for shutting down the line in 2008.

However recently, its my understanding, the position has changed slightly, requesting funding for 7 additional C-17s as part of your #1 priority on the unfunded list.

Now this request has had impact on the high rate of attrition as it continues to fly, I gather 70% of the missions in anticipated use in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Some Air Force officials have suggested publicly, that there might be a need to procure up to 20 additional C-17s. I’d like to receive your very candid assessment of the capabilities of the C-17, and the Secretary’s as well. Along with an explanation as why you chose to make the procurement of seven additional C-17s your top priority on the unfunded list.

General T. Michael Moseley:

Senator, thank you for the opportunity to talk about the C-17. It is worth its weight in gold. It’s a great design and it’s proven itself useful as inter-theater airlifter as well as intra-theater airlifter.

We’ve been able to use this airplane in areas where we have never used a strategic airlifter before because it is reliable, and it is very capable to get in and out of short airfields. In fact we were able to fly it directly from Charleston and McCord, and places in the United States to Europe. Or fly it straight into Baghdad or straight into Balad or straight into Bahgaman, Afghanistan without having to stop somewhere and transfer the cargo or the people to a smaller airplane.

So it has been worth its weight in gold. And we have been flying it in rates of excess of what we program. The good news about this airplane is that we’ve had the airplane instrumented, so we understand what the stresses are on the wings and on the fuselage and on the structure.

And as we look at that analysis we see that we are stressing the airplane with multiple take-offs and landings and multiple operations in shorter fields. Now we have out of the mobility capabilities study, 112 C-5s that is the other bookend of the strategic airlifters, and as the secretary mentioned we have congressional language that precludes retirement of the C-5A. So we have 112 C5-As.

Out of the Mobility Capability study, the program of record of 180 C-17s maxed with the 112 C-5s gives us sufficient airlift. And remember in the Mobility Capability study, it also addressed even rail shipment, fast sealifts, sealift prepositioning ships, wartime reserve material prepositioning. So it’s a bigger picture than just airlift. So 180 is the program of record.

But now that we have the ability to look at the instruments and the instrumented data, we see that we are burning the airplanes up at a higher rate. So our analysis tells us that the seven that we asked for in the unfunded party list along with the combat losses in the C-130J, and our center wing box issues with c-130s will be sufficient.

Now we also have partnered with the Australians, and we understand that they have asked to buy four C-17s. The British are looking at additional buys, Harold Jones and his world secured and NATO have expressed interest in additional C-17s, so the world I think understands how valuable this airplane really is.

Secretary of the Air Force, Michael W. Wynne:

I can add to that on page 1 yesterday in the USA Today you saw another illustration of the utility of the C-17, which is essentially a flying ICU made up for the medical evacuation of our soldiers and airmen and marines out of Balahd into Lanstool, Germany. This is a scheduled run using the versatility of this airplane, and we recognize that it is essentially being used at a little higher rate than we had anticipated it would be used at all in this war to support as general burns said, the ground warfare.

The miracle of Iraq is actually in Medevac. And the fact that we can get people from the frontlines into Balahd and into Lanstool and then back to Walter Reed in very short order and that is saving lives in a dramatic way. The C-17 is the workhorse of this engagement without a doubt. C-130 also works very hard during this time.

Our assets are essentially wearing out, and we would like to make sure we have enough in reserve, if you will, to recapitalize. I would tell you that the next tanker is actually more valuable than the next C-17 because the soul of the Air Force is in fact delivering power long-range, long-range strike.

Our expeditionary and agility forces requires tanker operations without a doubt. That having been said, we see that right now, because of the wear out that we are getting, to get an equivalent of 100 navy units, we may have to buy up to an additional seven units to essentially meet the capacity requirements laid down in the mobility capability study.

You asked why does it show up as our number one unfunded priority, and that was the reason why it showed up as our number one unfunded priority. We just see that a wear and tear on this fleet meeting the capacity requirements of the MCs would actually require up to seven additional airplanes.

The addition of the international sales I think is very fulfilling. It almost ratifies, if you will, our look at the C-17 as the next flown airplane. Were NATO and the United Kingdom and Australia to buy this airplane, it would further relieve us of some of the missions we are in fact accomplishing today.

General Mosely:

Two other bits for you, when I was blessed to be the Air Commander for Afghanistan and Iraq, we used the C-17 with the largest humanitarian aid drop in the history of combat aviation. Which were those early drops in Afghanistan flown out of Germany.

We also used the C-17 for the largest air drop of soldiers added with the 173 rd in northern Iraq since the Korean War. So the airplane is not only the finest flying hospital, it is also the finest deliverer of humanitarian assistance as well as paratroopers, and you can fly in and out of small airfields.

So that’s how I’ve assessed this.