“Good morning, Team C-17! Or should I say bonjour?”

It is early April and hundreds of Boeing workers in Long Beach, California break into applause and cheers around fuselage 177, or ‘Canada One’, the Globemaster III that will come off their production line for delivery to Canadian Forces Base Trenton in August.

The event is a fuselage ‘joining ceremony’ and Canadian military officers and defence officials are on hand for the celebration. They have a lot to celebrate. For years, the Canadian Forces have been asked to carry out missions around the world without strategic airlift, hitching rides with other military aircraft, mainly American, when possible and leasing large civilian cargo aircraft, mainly Russian, when necessary. Those days are almost over. When all the aircraft are delivered and crewed, Canada will really have the global reach it promises.

David Bowman, the man at the microphone, is hugely popular with the production workers because as vice-president and C-17 program manager, he gets a lot of the credit for keeping them employed. The four Canadian C-17 Globemaster III aircraft mean more well paid work in a program that has become a political football in the Congressional appropriations process.

Tommy Dunehew, Boeing International C-17 program manager, said, “our contention is that this is a national treasure. To not keep this line open would be a big mistake.” Helping to keep the Long Beach plant working are orders from the UK Royal Air Force for as many as three more C-17s to add to a fleet of eight; a fleet of four for the Royal Australian Air Force; a letter of intent from 13 NATO nations to purchase three Globemaster III airlifters, and an option for a fourth; and, the four being delivered to Canada.

Positive procurement
Sue Hale is a civilian DND employee, managing the C-17 Project Management Office. She thanked the USAF for giving up four C-17 production and training slots so Canada could take an August 2007 delivery, and she thanked Boeing and both the Canadian and US governments for getting the contracts done quickly. “Today we are here to witness the joining of the first aircraft destined for Canada, but more importantly we are here to celebrate the collaborative efforts of everyone involved in getting the members of Canada’s military a proven platform in 15 months, and not 15 years.”

She said the speed of the purchase was impressive. “We’re buying a proven platform and we’re leveraging off the USAF.” The leverage she referred to is the Global Sustainment Program (GSP) that manages every C-17 in the world as a member of a ‘virtual fleet’. Every aircraft in a bloc is identical to every other one, or is in the process of becoming identical. The virtual C-17 fleet is “plain vanilla,” Dunehew said, with no real difference between American and foreign aircraft. “Just the paint scheme.”

Hale said the Global Sustainment Program was absolutely key to the procurement. “When we’re such a small fleet, I don’t know how a small country like Canada could afford it on its own. I think it makes the whole program affordable. That was part of the whole procurement strategy.”

The GSP is a public-private agreement designed around the concept of performance-based logistics where the customer pays for readiness, not specific parts or services. Under the agreement, Boeing is responsible for all C-17 sustainment activities, including material management and depot maintenance support. The partnership capitalizes on Boeing’s expertise and that of the Air Force depots to ensure a readiness level that meets the warfighter’s needs.

The US Air Force has partnered with Boeing on sustainment for the C-17 since 2001. The GSP agreement is a five-year contract signed in 2004 to manage the fleet as a fleet, with complete interoperability of training, parts, maintenance and modifications. No exceptions or one-offs are allowed.

The GSP rolls every support activity into one – supply chain; training; customer satisfaction; engine maintenance and management; technical publications; heavy maintenance; in service engineering; and, support equipment management.

In automotive terms, the difference is between maintaining a Ferrari or a Ford. Because the aircraft is managed as just one of almost 200 others, it can be repaired or serviced at C-17 ‘dealerships’ around the world with standard parts and trained personnel. As Boeing’s GSP manager Richard Whittington said, “besides having spares and support equipment, we’ve got lessons learned.” The focus is aircraft availability, Whittington continued. “It has the highest usage of any aircraft in the Department of Defense.”

In the field, Boeing people are in direct contact with the customer and the aircraft every day. In many locations the Boeing team is in the same building as the air force squadrons they support. For maintenance at CFB Trenton, Boeing will stand up a facility right on the base. The latest planning called for as many as seven employees at the facility, plus up to ten more each year for annual participation in training programs and technical reviews.

Although no Canadian interviewed for this story would say it, it only makes sense that a foreign sale and the ability to extend the production line, even by four aircraft, gave Canada more bargaining power. Was the purchase a good deal for Canada? “Actually, we’ve held the price constant over a few years,” Boeing’s Dunehew said. “In fact, we’ve come down significantly.”

THE GLOBEMASTER III IS A TACTICAL aircraft with strategic range, operating into the same fields as C130 Hercules variants, for example, but with four times the cargo and a much greater range. The C-17 also extends the abilities of the Chinook helicopters the Canadian Forces will be receiving in three years, because the big airlifters mean they can be deployed and supported globally. Operating big airlifters into Short Austere Air Fields (SAAF) means a great saving in time, aircrew and fewer aircraft to get the job done.

The biggest cargo aircraft the Canadian Forces now owns is the Polaris, a modified version of the Airbus A310. Basically a civilian airliner, the Polaris lacks the C-17’s ability to carry and handle cargo and it cannot operate into the same short, unprepared airfields.

However, Brigadier-General Yvan Blondin of 1 Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg said, “The C-17 is not going to replace all the strategic lift requirement we have in Canada.” The Airbus still has its uses, he noted. The arrival of the C-17 means that more Airbus fleet time can be diverted to missions that just aren’t getting done now.

BGen Blondin said that when the 2004 tsunami hit Southeast Asia, the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) team could not get to the scene in a timely manner. “We had to stand in line and wait until something became available.” Soon, the CF will be able to get into many smaller airfields with much heavier cargoes in response to natural disaster.

The new strategic lift means Canada can provide assistance and military assets when and where the government decides. The days of putting our name on a long, international list and haggling for limited commercial or military capacity are over.

The Boeing workers were cheering and celebrating in April, but the real celebrations will happen in August when the first Canadian C-17 arrives in Trenton and goes into immediate operations.