The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller

Defense insanity: U.S. military is dependent on Russian pilots and planes

Photo of George Landrith
George Landrith
President, Frontiers of Freedom

The U.S. is hiring the Russians to deliver sensitive equipment and supplies to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Why? Because the U.S. military doesn’t have enough of the highly dependable and amazingly versatile C-17 airlifters. To make matters worse, we have no credible plan to resolve this problem.

The need for C-17s will continue to grow because each year older, less reliable and less capable C-5A airlifters — some of which are over 40 years old — are being retired from the fleet because they are beginning to fail. Notwithstanding current and future shortages, the Obama administration plans to cease purchases of the much-needed and much-used C-17 airlifter.

Unfortunately, if we stop manufacturing C-17s here in the United States, we will be forced to rely increasingly on the Russians or some other foreign power to help our military receive the equipment, materials and supplies that it must have to operate around the world. That would be bad for national security, bad for our fighting men and women, bad for taxpayers and bad for the economy.

The C-17 is the only U.S.-made military wide-body airlifter, and it is the most flexible and most capable airlifter in the world. It can perform strategic and tactical missions, and it can serve military and humanitarian functions. It can land on standard runways and austere remote dirt airfields anywhere on the planet. It can airlift troops, equipment and supplies on a moment’s notice. And it can perform medical evacuations while providing the wounded with what amounts to a flying hospital. No other country makes an airlifter as capable, reliable or versatile as the C-17.

The Russian-made and piloted transport AN-124 cost taxpayers $47,000 an hour to operate in 2007, for a total of $840 million in FY 2007-08. That money could have procured four more C-17s, which would have served our fighting men and women for the next 40 to 50 years and helped close the gap between our airlift needs and our airlift capabilities. But instead, we pay the Russians to deliver supplies and equipment to our troops in sensitive locations around the world and make ourselves more and more dependent on foreign nations in the process, while funding their military budgets and robbing our own. This is crazy stuff!

And when C-17s were used to deliver humanitarian relief in Haiti, Chile and other countries, we increased our usage of Russian airlifters to keep our fighting men and women properly supplied in the field. By the end of fiscal year 2010, we had spent more than $2 billion leasing foreign aircraft to do the job that our own C-17s could do if we had enough of them. And $2 billion would purchase about eight C-17s that would fly for more than four decades!

The Obama administration’s current policy puts us on a path to one day having the military might of a third-world nation simply because we will not be able to quickly and efficiently supply our troops with U.S. airlift assets.

Hiring foreign powers to make deliveries to our military is a bad idea on so many different levels. First, it potentially places our fighting men and women at greater risk because foreign powers will know the location of our troops and what supplies they are receiving, and even have access to sensitive military technology and equipment. Second, we may not be able to hire foreign powers to fill our airlift needs. Third, hiring foreign powers to provide us with airlift capacity will cost taxpayers more than building our own aircraft. Fourth, America will lose more high-tech aerospace jobs to other nations.

George Landrith is President of Frontiers of Freedom Institute, an educational institute whose mission is to promote public policy based on the principles of individual freedom, peace through strength, limited government, free enterprise, and traditional American values as found in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

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  • masmart

    I agree we need to have more C-17s. What they give us is the ability to project and sustain military power the world over on demand. We are working our planes, crews and support very hard right now, potentially hindering our ability to respond to more or larger threats. More planes, pilots, and the logistics tail that comes with them would be a very good thing.

    However, I need to comment on some of your ideas, especially those in the last paragraph. You say that hiring foreign aircraft, “potentially places our fighting men and women at greater risk because foreign powers will know the location of our troops and what supplies they are receiving, and even have access to sensitive military technology and equipment.” First, the bad guys already know where we are. The American military is like an elephant – there is no doubt we are there because you just can’t hide something that big and loud and that has an appetite to match. Our troops who do need that kind of secrecy (like the special forces that took out OBL) get it. Second, we do not ship “sensitive” stuff by such carriers; that would be stupid. Planes like the AN-124 are for very big, very heavy pieces of equipment we do not otherwise have the ability to ship by air. Could we use our own follow-on to the C-5? Probably. The question would then be if the cost to the taxpayer in fielding a whole new system was worth avoiding paying for the small amount of air transport we get from these other carriers. The military’s civilian masters have said, “No.”

    “Second, we may not be able to hire foreign powers to fill our airlift needs.” True – and if that happened when we were in a pinch, it would hurt, but not for long. We have a back up called the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF). A certain amount of each US-based commercial airline fleet is, by law, liable to be called up to support the military if required. The aircraft in this program have certain structural modifications which would allow them to carry military loads of passengers and/or cargo. We actually used the CRAF during the build up to Desert Storm.

    “Third, hiring foreign powers to provide us with airlift capacity will cost taxpayers more than building our own aircraft.” Again, it is not just a one-time cost to buy aircraft as you suggest. When you buy an aircraft you are buying everything that comes along with it. You are buying a lot of airmen: pilots and other aircrew, life support, maintenance and logistics folk, all of whom must be trained and supported and given a pension eventually. You are also buying all the spare parts, maintenance and modifications over the life span of that aircraft. It is not that easy to say for the cost of hiring foreign carriers we could buy X number of aircraft. Then what?

    “Fourth, America will lose more high-tech aerospace jobs to other nations.” I did not see anything in the article to support this.

    Could we use more C-17s? Yep. Also, more C-130s, F-22s, and a new bomber are needed. But the cargo that gets shipped by foreign carriers (and American carriers, by the way) does help us out a whole lot to move and support our troops.

  • Emacs23

    The author should better check his facts: An-124 is larger than both C-17 and C-5 and more efficient (better flight distance, more cargo, less fuel).

  • aeroman

    You made a telling comment in your article when you mentioned the “less reliable and less capable C-5A”, the Russian AN-124 is very similar to the C-5A but much more reliable. Comparing the C-17 and the AN-124 is somewhat akin to comparing a delivery van to an 18 wheeler, they are very different aircraft, designed for different purposes. Perhaps if the C-5 was more reliable there wouldn’t be a need to utilize Russian aircraft.

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  • LoboSolo

    Were going to be using Russian rockets to get to Space after the Shuttle is retired …