An Indian Air Force order for 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III heavy-lift transport aircraft is looking like an uncertain acquisition with a production-line strike at the Boeing facility where the giant aircraft are built and clear hints from the Pentagon that the programme will soon shut down.
The C-17 is a long running programme that the Pentagon has been desperately trying to kill off for years without success as US Congressmen, scared of the economic impact of a plant closure on their constituents, keep it alive under some pretext or the other.
1,700 assembly-line workers at the Long Beach, Calif, plant struck work for a second day Wednesday, demanding better pension and medical benefits. Earlier, talks between management and the United Aerospace Workers broke down last week after employees rejected a 46-month contract offer from the company.
On an average Boeing builds around 16 C-17s a year, primarily for the US Air Force, at an average price tag of about $200 million each. Orders, though, have been declining and the company has recently said it would further bring down annual production rate to 10 by mid-2011.
For the US military the aircraft has become a prize lemon being too costly to acquire. In any case the unnecessary additions to the air force fleet have ensured that the USAF fleet is already chock-a-bloc with it. But as has been the political practise, interested Congressmen keep the programme alive by compelling the Pentagon to acquire sufficient numbers each year so that the plants never close down.
The US military, for long, has sought an end for the programme and focus on upgrading its ageing Lockheed Martin Corp C-5 Galaxy fleet which can happen at a fraction of the cost of acquiring the C-17s.