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

George Landrith Contributor
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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.