Free Markets, Free People

Sen. Boxer’s Rebellion

[This post originally appeared in the Washington Examiner on August 30, 2010.]

If there is one thing that Congress has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, it’s that spending other people’s money is easy. What makes it even easier is when they spend it on favored constituents in order to buy votes, even where the product purchased by the government isn’t wanted or needed.

Take the example of the Boeing C-17 Globemaster, a cargo transport aircraft, which is manufactured in Long Beach, California. While the plane is one of the military’s best workhorses (especially for forward deployments), the Air Force insists that it has plenty, more than enough in fact, and would really rather not purchase any more. Sen. Barbara Boxer, however, has other plans:

Locked in a tough re-election campaign, Sen. Barbara Boxer dropped by Boeing’s C-17 plant Friday [August 20, 2010] to pledge continued federal support for one of California’s largest manufacturers.

A crowd of cheering workers greeted Boxer at the site next to Long Beach Airport, where more than 5,000 design, build, market and sell the $250 million jet.

Boxer has remained one of the C-17 Globemaster’s strongest supporters on Capitol Hill since production began in the early 1990s, voting for all of the 223 jets so far ordered for the U.S. Air Force.


Before departing, Boxer promised the roughly 250 C-17 workers in attendance she would continue supporting the jet in Congress.

“I cannot tell you how proud I am that we have surpassed 200 planes, and that this magnificent aircraft is being built right here in California by American workers,” she said. “The only place the C-17 should ever be built is in California.”

To borrow a certain, infamous turn-of-phrase, they told me if I voted for John McCain I would be supporting the Military Industrial Complex, and they were right!

Well, that’s not entirely fair since, in reality, the Obama administration has been quite adamant that they’ve had quite enough C-17’s, thank you very much, and really don’t want anymore.

[In the end of June], the Obama Administration C-17 Challengers, led by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, continued to land blow after blow in the annual boxing match over the fate of the C-17 and the 5,000 Long Beach workers who assemble the big jets. The Obama Administration wants to end production after the 223 which are already in service or in the pipeline. Boeing, its friends in congress and everywhere else are doing everything they can to continue building the profitable four engine advanced airlifters.

In order to force the sale on the Air Force, Congress is threatening to include provisions ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the appropriation bill, forcing a painful veto decision on the White House. That does not seem to be changing the administration’s mind, however:

On Sunday [June 20, 2010], Gates was asked about the C-17 in an interview on Fox News by CHRIS WALLACE, ANCHOR. Here are the relevant excerpts:

WALLACE: As part of your new drive to try to cut the budget for non- combat operations, has the president agreed to veto any bill that would include continued funding for the C-17 cargo plane or an alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, even if that legislation also included repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

GATES: Well, as I told the Senate Appropriations Committee, the defense subcommittee, this week, it would be a very serious mistake to believe that the president would not veto a bill that has the C-17 or the alternative engine in it just because it had other provisions that the president and the administration want.

WALLACE: Have you been given an assurance by the president that he will enforce his feelings, your feelings, about the budget even at the expense of social policy?

GATES: Well, I think the White House has put out a very strong statement in support. I would also just say that I don’t go way out on a limb without looking back to make sure nobody’s back there with a saw.

WALLACE: So you think that they veto the bill even with repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell?”

GATES: I think so.

The Obama administration has repeated its promise to veto any bill purchasing more C-17’s since then. Nevertheless, Sen. Boxer keeps pushing for the purchase despite the fact that, according to a defense industry insider, the Air Force already has more of the aircraft than it needs (223 purchased vs. 205 or less required, which is backed up by this 2008 GAO report), and may have a cheaper alternative in modernization of the complementary C-5 Galaxy aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin.

Whatever the merits of the C-5 vs. the C-17, the Air Force and Department of Defense have been quite clear that they no longer want purchase the C-17, and the GAO concluded in 2008 that the C-17 program would have to end in the near term (slated to being next month), regardless of what some in Congress wanted.

The real story here is that leaders such as Sen. Boxer continue to be oblivious to what their duties actually are. She and her congressional colleagues persist in using taxpayer money to fund projects intended to keep them in power, but which add nothing to general welfare of the country. Will purchasing more C-17’s save jobs in Long Beach? Yes, but only for a little while, and only at the expense of more productive uses of the workers’ time (i.e. creating something that is actually wanted and needed). Meanwhile the appropriation costs taxpayers plenty and they get no benefit from it.

So long as our leaders in Washington continue to spend our money for their own benefit, and that of their friends, we will have ballooning deficits and a decreasingly productive economy. judging from the growing clamor of voices, such as in the Tea Party movement, the electorate gets that. Our tax dollars are not for keeping the already powerful entrenched. The real question is, when will Sen. Boxer and her friends in Washington finally figure it out?

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24 Responses to Sen. Boxer’s Rebellion

  • I think I will wait to see Erb’s comments on this first, but every military (actually just every) contractor out there knows that contracts don’t go on forever.  In fact, when I started my career (just after the end of the moon missions), I decided to avoid military contractors just because of this reason.

  • The real question is, when will Sen. Boxer and her friends in Washington finally figure it out?

    I don’t expect them to learn anything anytime soon.  The C-17 buy when more are not needed is not a new event.  Some years ago, the A-10 Thunderbolt II (real nickname: Warthog) was nearing the end of the production cycle.  Congress mandated the purchase of 24 more than DoD needed.  Congress wanted to keep the production line open.  Result: Factory stayed open for two additional years.  The 24 aircraft were purchased and delivered to the Air Force but the AF had no squadrons to assign them or pilots to fly them.  Each additional A-10 was flown to Tucson and put into mothballs – taped up and put into a preservation status as a ready reserve replacement status.  Over the next 9 years, as aircraft crashed or were put out of commission for one reason or another, these aircraft were pulled out of mothballs as repacements.

  • The real story here is that leaders such as Sen. Boxer continue to be oblivious to what their duties actually are.

    There is a FUNDAMENTAL flaw in that sentence…
    While pols give lip service to letting the generals run the military, they can’t seem to let that happen.  Which, as I look at how PC our upper military leadership has become, MAY have some virtue.

  • do you really beleive that this is a one party thing? the right as well as the left loves buying inferior overpriced equipment from the MIC. it ensure votes which translates to political power.

    • No, it’s not a one party thing. I remember Newt Gingrich being pilloried every year for insisting that additional C130Js be included in each new defense bill. Despite the AF arguing that they had enough.*
      But the C17 is neither inferior, nor overpriced. It is a large transport aircraft capable of delivering 80 tons of cargo (an M1 tank weighs 70 tons) to an unimproved airstrip anywhere in the world. There is no other aircraft in service with its capabilities. It’s not about cost, it’s about value.
      *Ironically, the AF has opted to expand procurement of the C130J based on usage over the past 10 years. They have also increased the number of upgrades of existing C130H aircraft to J model specifications. This increase in capacity would not have been possible if the C130J had gone out of production.

      • No, it’s not about “cost or value”, it is about excess airlift capacity and unwanted aircraft.

        The point being if Boeing wants to continue to sell and make C17s it is incumbent upon them to make the sales in order to keep the factory open – not the US taxpayer buying unwanted and unneeded aircraft to do that.

        • Hello Sir,
           I’m not sold on the excess airlift capacity argument. If one reads AW&ST, plus Ares, Defense Industry Daily, and Janes, you’ll note an undercurrent that people in the field want more C-17’s. The higher ups don’t want them as they want the next gold-plated, stealthy cargo arcraft, and the USAFR will probably be able to afford a few dozen at best.   

           I’d rather see another 80-90 C-17’s built, and the older C-5A’s retired. The C-5B’s are somewhat cheaper to operate and are somewhat less maintenance intensive. Boeing has options for a stretched C-17. I’d look at those aircraft ideas – wouldn’t a newer design have greater potential? The C-5 was designed, after all, in the mid-60’s.



          • All of the C5’s are upgradable to the C5m, meaning for 1/3 the cost of a C17 you have an airframe with 30 years more life, twice the cargo capacity and the ability to fly 50% further thereby delivering its cargo at a lower cost per unit. If we’re serious about cost in the military, it seems a no-brainer.

            The field always wants more of everything – find a general anywhere that doesn’t want more soldiers on the ground for any mission. That doesn’t mean they’re necessary or he (or she) should get them. The AF knows what demands are made on its air transport systems and what it needs to fulfill that mission and future missions. They’ve been saying for years that the mix of C17s and C5s they have is more than enough. Forcing 43 new C17s on them has given them EXCESS airlift capacity whether you agree or not. And they have to pay for that even though they don’t need it.

            Sound like a good way to run an Air Force to you?

    • I’m not sure who you’re addressing, but the post is quite clear that this a congressional problem, not one of left or right.  Heck, I even emphasized how the Obama administration is quite adamant about vetoing further purchases of the C-17, and last I checked he was still on the left.

      • Reps almost always support weapons systems made in their own districts. Even when the military has not requested additional purchases. That’s a non-controversial observation that’s been true since WWII. Second, that reps foist inferior and costly systems on the services. I can’t think of a single major weapons system that was fielded in the past 50 years that was “inferior”. I’ll also note that weapons systems acquired by European nations are also very costly. It’s not exclusively an American problem.

        • I don’t think anyone is claiming it is.

          However, unless you make it hurt, Congress people have no incentive to stop. Boxer’s in a tight race in CA. This sort of stuff, especially in the political atmosphere today, if presented as it should be (rent-seeking at the highest level, government waste, wasteful spending) could provide a margin of difference if it got big enough in the election.

        • The Brits are in the process of doing a early retirement of their Harriers, dropping their order for F-35-s and going to borrowed F-18-s for their new aircraft carriers (they appear to be none returnable).

      • I’m not sure who you’re addressing, but the post is quite clear that this a congressional problem, not one of left or right.
        Well, the fact that you made no mention of Republicans or the Right might lead one to believe that you’re suggesting that this is a problem for Boxer and her “friends” in Washington.
        You could have easily found another example to highlight to suggest that this is a problem from both political entities.  You chose not to.  And given your past record of biased for Republicans and against Democrats, that inference is completely justifiable and likely true.
        You could easily amend the post to include examples from Republicans.  It would go far to quiet these types of criticism.   Otherwise, it looks like just another attack on Boxer and her “friends” in Washington.

        • Frankly, Pogue, it doesn’t matter what I write, you always see what you want to see, not what’s actually there.  Forgive me if I continue to write for an audience broader that 1.

          • Good for you, Michael.
            As one of those other audience members, I don’t need for you to “amend” this article to assuage any ignorant fears I might have that people paying attention think it’s a Democrat-only thing.  How arrogant of Pogue to ask such a thing.

  • Colleagues:

    While Senator Boxer’s support of C-17 is laudable (and for some, lamentable) she is hardly a singular voice expressing profound objection to termination of this inarguably indispensable airlifter built by 702 suppliers in 43 states.  Moreover, its production directly employs 30,000 workers, before one appropriately applies Keynesian economic multipliers as noted in a limited release 2005 Department of Commerce study measuring the full industrial base impact of line closure.
    ( )

    Boeing is to be commended for its continuing and bold support for C-17, despite the forces arrayed against them,  demonstrated yet again by the bluntly eloquent comments expressed above and within the Washington Examiner. As stated in July 17 and June 1, 2010 releases from Global HeavyLift, ( ) every effort is being made by elements within the DoD, in collaboration with several international media outlets, both mainstream and in the blogosphere, to dissuade foreign governments, inclusive of India and its IAF, from continuing their efforts to acquire as many as 34 aircraft (of which at least 16 are for India) with the intent of addressing critical strategic/tactical airlift requirements. The latter being considered a necessary and pragmatic move as the China threat, acknowledged as quite significant within the Annual Report to Congress on China’s military build-up ( ) finally released in mid-August roughly 5 months late by the DoD, grows.

    Since so many editorials are containing C-17 catch phrases like ‘unnecessary’, ‘not requested’, ‘The Air Force says 180 (or 205, now 223) is enough’, one assumes that such assertions concerning this superlative airlifter which has no true near, mid or long term replacement, are fact checked to ascertain the worthiness of these comments.

    As stated in several press releases by GHH over the past year, the data to which the President, SECDEF, the SECAF and others have referred to as reasons for termination of C-17 production, have been debunked as based on flawed analytics and inapplicable, outdated, conflict assumptions by the GAO and Congress, or do not exist. GHH believes they can only be referring to the 2005/2006 Mobility Capabilities Study (MCS) produced by the Pentagon Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E) and the Strategic airlift section of the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) which echoes MCS conclusions that “180 C-17s augmented by 112 REAMP/RERP C-5s was[were] enough”.

    These same flawed conclusions have been repeated in the 2010 version of MCS (MCRS), despite DoD claims of “enhanced fidelity” within strategic/tactical airlift analytical matrices utilized.
    We nevertheless thank you for your forceful insights.

    Myron D. Stokes
    Managing Member
    Global HeavyLift Holdings, LLC
    Encyclopedic Narrative:

    2008 GAO Airlift Report

    From the GAO Report:

    ‘Both the manufacturer and Air Force agree that shutting down and restarting production would not be feasible or cost effective due to the costs to reinstate a capable workforce, reinstall tooling, and reestablish the supplier base. At some point, the C-17 production line will shut down, and DOD will have to pay substantial costs that have not yet been budgeted.

    ‘The manufacturer and Air Force shutdown estimates differ significantly—about $1 billion and $465 million, respectively—in large part because the manufacturer’s estimate included assumptions about demolishing facilities and environmental remediation, while the Air Force’s did not.’

    Relative Capability Increases from Modernized C-5s and New C-17 Aircraft

    ‘Finally, if the cost for C-5 modernization continues to increase, Air Force officials may have to reconsider the mix within its airlift portfolio or request additional funding.

    ‘Additional investments in C-17 aircraft may become more attractive. Currently, a new C-17 would cost about $276 million compared to $132 million to fully modernize a C-5. Each new C-17 potentially adds 100 percent of its cargo capacity toward meeting the total airlift requirement.

    ‘Because the C-5s are already part of the operational force, each aircraft’s current capacity is already counted toward the total requirement. Consequently, according to DOD data, the C-5 modernization programs only provide a marginal increase of 14 percent in capability over nonmodernized aircraft.

    “Using DOD’s million ton-mile per day planning factors, we, working in collaboration with DOD, calculated that DOD would need to fully modernize 7 C-5s to attain the equivalent capability achieved from acquiring 1 additional C-17 and the costs would be over 3 times more (see table 3).” 

    Comparison of C-5 and C-17 Capabilities and Characteristics
    C-5                                                                     C-17
    270,000 pounds of cargo 170,900 pounds of cargo
    Range (unrefueled)
    6,320 miles                                                                     2,700 miles

    Minimum runway length
    6,000 feet  (infrastructure intensive)        3,500 feet (minimal to non-existent infrastructure) 
    7       3

    Mission capable rate: C-5 — C-17 
    53 percent (2008) 86 percent (2008)

    Cost per flying hour
    $23,100 $11,300

    • What part of this don’t you guys understand — there is NO NEED for additional C17s. Whether it is the miracle plane of the ages, the AF now has EXCESS lift capacity.

      • ”Three department studies completed over the past five years have concluded that the U.S. military has more than enough strategic airlift capacity, and that additional C-17s are not required. “

      • “In 2004, the Air Force Fleet Viability board determined that the fleet of C-5As – the oldest variant – will remain viable until at least 2025. The Air Force and the manufacturer believe that the C-5 fleet will remain viable until 2040.”

      • “Despite the demands of the current military campaigns, the existing C-17 fleet is not being “burned up.“ With the exception of 2003 – when there were only 111 aircraft in the fleet that were being surged to begin the Iraq war – the annual use of the C-17 inventory has been within program limits”

      • “While it is true that the C-17 can land places where the C-5 cannot, of the 200,000 landings made by C-17s since 1997, less than 4 percent were in places that were not accessible to the C-5”

      • The department has concluded that the current C- 17 is more than sufficient to meet the military`s airlift needs. Should Congress add funds to continue this program, I will strongly recommend a presidential veto” – SecDef Gates

      2005 Mobility Capabilities Study and 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review

    • • 292 strategic Airlifters (180 C-17s + 112 C-5s) Meet all Requirements
    • 2008 OSD Strategic Airlift Review (14 Different Options )

    • • Current Program of Record (205 C-17s + 111 C-5) Was Most Cost Effective
    • • Affirmed There Was No Need For Additional C-17s
    • 2009 Congressional Directed Airlift Review (36 Different Options )

    • • Current Program of Record Meets All Requirements, No Need For More C-17s
    • • C-5A Modernization Less Expensive Than Additional C-17s
    • • Retiring C-5As to Buy/Operate Additional C-17s Is Not Cost Effective
    • 2010 Mobility Capabilities and Requirements Study (MCRS)

    • • Nation Has Excess Strategic Airlift (223 C-17s +111 C-5s)
    • AF Now Proposes Retiring Up To 22 C-5s Because of Excess Capability due to unwanted C-17s. With the upgrade, the C5s have at least 30 years of service life remaining at a 1/3 of the price of a new C17.

      Are you getting this yet?

  • You left a similarly non-responsive, self-referential and inaccurate comment at my Washington Examiner post.  You should at least have the decency to disclose who you are and what your vested interest is.  Exactly how much do you stand to gain financially from more C-17’s being bought by the US government?

    I especially love this part:

    Boeing is to be commended for its continuing and bold support for C-17, despite the forces arrayed against them,  demonstrated yet again by the bluntly eloquent comments expressed above and within the Washington Examiner.

    How is it “bold” for Boeing to continue it’s support for the purchase of its own product?  I mean, is McDonald’s bold for continuing to support the sale of Big Macs?

    And while I can certainly appreciate your strong sense of self-worth, I find it hilarious that you think your “comments” are either blunt or eloquent.  Just to give you a clue, they meet neither definition.

    Moreover, how is it that I’m a “force[] arrayed against” Boeing? I have no dog in the fight, other than as a taxpayer who’s tired of paying for stuff we don’t need nor do we even want.

    So I reiterate my question: who are you, and what’s your stake in this?  It’s pretty obvious that you have a financial interest.  You should disclose it.

  • Michael:

    Thank you for your insights and professionalism.

    In the interest of full disclosure (presented in this post and the WE post) Encyclopedic Narrative:

    Be well.

    MD Stokes

  • Michael:  One other clarification:  I was referring to your  “bluntly eloquent comments above and within the WE”; not mine.

    Be well.
    MD Stokes

    • Well, the compliment is appreciated, but it still doesn’t explain who you are, or what your interest is.  I can only guess that you expect to receive some remuneration from the Boeing C-17 project, and I frankly have no beef with that.  By all accounts it truly is a magnificent aircraft.  The only problem is that the AF has more than enough, has said so repeatedly, and yet the taxpayers continue to pay for more.  That’s not a problem with the C-17, but instead with Congress.

  • Look, let’s see about making lemonade out of this lemon: can we get that C-17 plant to make something the USAF needs, like replacements for the aging F-15’s currently in service?

    As for having “enough” or even “too many” C-17’s… well, call me old-fashioned, but I tend to take the view that you can NEVER have “too many”.  I’m sure that, had one asked the right people in 1940, the Navy had “enough” aircraft carriers and fleet submarines, and the Army had “enough” tanks, AT guns, howitzers, etc.  Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, I always say.  If the USAF has more C-17s than they really need, then park the extras at Davis-Monthan or in hangars somewhere as spares against the day that they ARE needed.

    • There’s an alternative to more C17s – upgrading the C5 to the C5m which can carry twice the cargo load of a C17, 50% further at a lower cost per pallet and the upgrade is 1/3 the cost of a new C17. But since C17s are being forced down the AF’s throat, they’re considering retiring 22 C5s instead of upgrading them because of the budgetary costs involved.

      The point here is it should be the AF and SecDef’s call – not Boxer’s. What happend to “listen to the generals?”

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