The Air Force Association of Canada is using the recent response to Hurricane Halyan in the Philippines to urge the government to acquire a fifth CC-177 Globemaster III.

In a position paper released this week, the association highlited the role of the C-17 in the deployment of the Disaster Assistance Response Team to Iloilo on Panay Island in November, and in sustaining the operation from 8 Wing Trenton, a 34,000 km round trip (about 50 flying hours). “The RCAF’s response was immediate, with the first aircraft leaving Trenton 24 hours after the Government’s call and arriving in Iloilo two days later. Overall, CC-177 aircraft of 429 Squadron delivered 863,000 lbs of cargo and 300 personnel in 405 hours of flying, a rate of effort that would have not been possible had all available aircraft not been used,” the paper stated.

The position paper is an update to one released in January 2013. AFAC noted that in just over five years since the RCAF acquired four Globemasters, the government has “respond to a wide array of domestic and global humanitarian missions and expeditionary operations,” including the annual Op Nanook exercise and re-supply of RCAF Station Alert, but that ability to respond could be severely tested.

“The RCAF has established a tasking level of approximately 80%, meaning that roughly three of its four CC-177 aircraft are expected to be available for operations at any one time. This is a level of readiness and availability that far exceeds historical RCAF and allied air force standards. Canada has joined the Global Support Program (GSP), which allows certain support costs associated with the aircraft to be apportioned on a pro-rata basis across all users (more than 200 globally). A requisite of the GSP program, however, is that all aircraft in the global fleet must be maintained and upgraded to a common standard, requiring that they undergo a ‘heavy maintenance’ program approximately once every five years. The process takes about five months to complete and, given the heavy utilization rate of Canada’s CC-177 fleet over the past five years, all four of our aircraft will have to go through the program in short order. What this means in practical terms is that the tasking rate the RCAF has maintained over the past several years will not be sustainable. Canada will face periods where the availability of strategic air mobility will be severely curtailed and the CAF’s ability to respond to a crisis will potentially be jeopardized.”

AFAC says an additional CC-177 aircraft for Canada would increase the number of aircraft available for tasking by about 25% and also allow the RCAF to spread its utilization over a larger fleet. It notes that allies such as the U.K. and Australia have decided “to significantly expand their original C-17 fleets” in part because of increased operational tempos.

One concern is the continued production of the aircraft. Boeing has indicated the production line with remain open through late 2015 but the association warns “this schedule is tentative and if Canada truly wants to acquire the capacity and flexibility that would come with an additional CC-177 aircraft, it will need to take a decision very soon.”