Australia is considering acquisition of a fifth Boeing C-17 Globemaster airlifter instead of the two Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules that it has been planning to buy.
In language that suggests Australia has almost decided on another C-17, Defense Minister Stephen Smith cites Canberra’s great satisfaction with the performance of the four C-17s that it bought last decade.
They “have delivered excellent service and have provided [the defense department’s] first true global-airlift capability,” Smith says.
“We are seeking cost and availability information to enable consideration to be given to the acquisition of another C-17 aircraft,” he says, adding that he has discussed the issue with Heidi Grant, deputy under secretary for the U.S. Air Force for international affairs, during her current visit to Australia.
The purchase would be made through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.
“An acquisition of an additional C-17 would almost certainly obviate any need for the acquisition of two additional C-130 aircraft, currently planned for after 2013-14,” Smith says.
Australia has 24 Hercules, having repeatedly bought batches of the type since becoming its first foreign operator in 1958.
Of those 24, 12 are the C-130H version developed in the 1960s and were marked for retirement in Australia’s 2009 defense white paper. No date for their leaving service has been announced, however.
Australia’s C-17s, ordered to stock U.S. Air Force standard, have gained great publicity in relief missions in a series of natural disasters that have swept the country and neighboring New Zealand over the past two months. But Smith stresses that their main role is long-range military lift — for example, supporting Australia’s deployment in Afghanistan.
Canberra’s interest in a fifth C-17 comes as the country increasingly cooperates in supply operations with New Zealand.
The Royal Australian Navy, finding that its fleet of auxiliary ships, including assault ships, is largely inoperable, will rely for a time on the Royal New Zealand Navy’s support ship HMNZS Canterbury.
Officials in the C-17 program told Aviation Week last year that a fifth Australian C-17 was a possibility (Aerospace DAILY, May 28, 2010). At that time, there also was consideration of a sixth aircraft that would be operated jointly with New Zealand.