The Air Force pisses me off. Every time they run a successful program, they try to kill it, and spend the money on a failed program. The two poster children for this are the C-17 and the F-22. While both programs ran long and were hugely expensive, in the end, they delivered what was promised, the most capable platforms of their type in the world. And both programs have faced the long knives of the Air Force leadership, hoping to spend the money elsewhere. In the case of the F-22, just as development was giving way to production and service, the Air Force convinced SecDef Gates to kill it to spur spending on the F-35 Joint PowerPoint Fighter. In the case of the C-17, the Air Force has always low-balled the number of airframes needed, and tried to kill production several times. But as StrategyPages notes, what the Air Force really needs is about twice as many C-17s as it has.
It’s always been an uphill fight getting new air transports built. There were so many delays in the C-17 program that, when the 1991 Gulf War came along, the C-17 was not available and the C-141 transports, that was supposed to keep flying until 2010, were basically worn out and had to be retired early. Now the C-17s are doing more work, to make up for the missing C-141s. Originally, there were to be 120 C-17s (at $135 million each), with production ending in 2004. After September 11, 2001, it was realized that more air transports would be needed, and the production run of the C-17 was increased to 180. But logistics planners insist that 300 will be needed, if wartime needs are to be met. Moreover, the rapid deterioration of the early model C-17s means that eventually 350, or more, will have to be built to maintain a fleet of 300 transports.