Home » Air » Planes, Copters, Blimps » C-5 Upgrade Costs Climb

C-5 Upgrade Costs Climb

by Ward Carroll on September 25, 2007

The Air Force senior leadership confirmed Monday that the estimated cost for upgrading the C-5 Galaxy fleet is far above what contractor Lockheed Martin has contracted for — a circumstance that may threaten the future of the upgrade program.
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“We see the disparity [in the figures] and we see that no matter whose costs you use the cost of the program is going to go up through at least the 15 percent if not the 25 percent, which requires a Nunn-McCurdy announcement,” Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said Monday at the Air Force Association symposium in Washington, D.C.

Under the Nunn-McCurdy Pentagon budget statute, a cost overrun of 25 percent or more requires the Defense Department to make a case for keeping the program alive. To do that it has to show the program is critical to national security, that there is no other viable alternative, and the department must demonstrate that the problems that caused the overruns are under control.

Former senior Air Force leaders have said the Air Force may use the cost breach to justify killing the C-5 program. The program to re-engine the giant cargo carrier and also upgrade the avionics has been estimated to cost about $13 billion.

Air Force officials said the service is trying to reconcile the costs now, and intends to give Lockheed its “best shot” at showing it can do the program within cost. Lockheed has previously said it could do the re-engining work for about $83 million per plane.

But former senior Air Force officials and others report that the service thinks it will actually cost up to $119 million per plane.

Both Air Force chief Gen. Mike Moseley and Wynne say they are now trying to explain to Congress and the Defense Department that a formal announcement of contract breach could be coming. The two have made no secret of the fact they’d like to get rid of at least some C-5s, but Congress to date has made that impossible by requiring the service to keep the entire existing fleet intact.

“Right now there are two laws on the books which we are complying with,” Wynne said. “One is to finish the testing on the airplanes [already upgraded] and the other prohibits us from retiring C-5s, and we’re in compliance with those.”

“If the money sounds right and Congress holds the laws together,” he said, “we’re going to execute the C-5″ program.

– Bryant Jordan

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{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

22lr September 25, 2007 at 12:56 pm

Im kinda in the same boat there. Lets just buy a bunch of new C-17s. Im not an expert on the C5 but big isnt always better.

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22lr September 25, 2007 at 8:33 pm

Ok cool, i see yar point, which is a good one. I guess im just not of the midset that a plane that can lift heavan and earth if what we need. But alas they can lift Heavan and Earth and pack a few extra things around the edges, so I guess they would definatly have a use.
Anyone know how many of these babys we have.

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irtusk September 25, 2007 at 10:07 pm

according to the infallible wikipedia there were 77 re-winged C-5As and 50 C-5Bs
of those at least one B and a few A’s were lost
they were planning to do 111 C-5M conversions

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Max September 26, 2007 at 1:04 am

I’m not an expert on these matters, but from my experience with these planes, I happen to know that the C-5 Galaxy can carry more than just a little more than the C-17, and that it is a plane that is badly needed by the services to carry heavy vehicles and gear to the battlefield. It seems to me that 119 Million is a small price to pay for a better version of what has been a good workhorse for the Armed Forces. The C-17 is a good plane, too, but it is a lightweight suitable only for medium-size cargo. I say keep the C-5′s working for another generation.

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irtusk September 26, 2007 at 2:21 am

cargo compartment (HxWxL)-
C-5: 13.5′ x 19′ x 143.75′
C-17: 12.3′ x 18′ x 88′
load-
C-5: 81 troops AND 36 pallets (135 tons cargo)
C-17: 102 troops OR 18 pallets (84.5 tons cargo)
range-
C-5: 2400 nmi with 131.6 ton payload
C-17: 2400 nmi with 84.5 ton payload
drop the C-5′s payload by 47.1 tons and it can fly quite a bit further
and that’s with the current B model specs
the RERP program is supposed to give “a significantly increased cargo load, and a longer range between refueling”
The B models have OVER 80% OF DESIGN LIFE REMAINING
the biggest problems with the C-5:
1. reliability, it doesn’t have any
that’s what the AMP and RERP program are to address
2. manpower, typically flies with a crew of 7 compared to 3 for the C-17
i believe AMP should help here too (modern avionics = fewer flight engineers)
The C-5 truly is a monster and well worth the upgrade

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Freedom18 September 26, 2007 at 7:19 am

I work at a base that has C-5′s, and C-17′s, and even with those great numbers that irtusk gave, you cant comprehend how much of a beast it is untill your inside of one, this baby can hold 6 greyhound buses, or 2 abrams tanks, and still have some play room. I cant think of a better way to get our bigger equipment overseas. At the same time however, because of the landing strip length requirements, very rarely do they even come close to the AOR. They usually stop somewhere over the pond and then unload to C-17′s (or other smaller aircraft), which are MUCH more versatile. In my opinion the only option here is either buy 2 C-17′s for every C-5, which would allow the supplies to fly direct to the AOR, or upgrade the C-5′s and continue with the way it is now. Just my 2-cents.

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George Skinner September 26, 2007 at 10:54 am

I know that the C-5 is a big plane, but reliability counts for a lot, and the C-5 has been anything but reliable. The C-5 incorporates features intended to allow soft field operation, but these are never used. It was intended to be able to carry 2 M-1 tanks, but as the weight of the tank has increased, it can only carry a single fully-equipped tank. I’d also be interested in finding out how often the extra cargo capacity of the C-5 vs. the C-17 is actually used. I’m skeptical about the effectiveness of an upgrade program in an old aircraft like the C-5. Even if the engines and avionics are upgraded, there will be other components like hydraulic systems that are going to age out and impact reliability. Even the airframe is a question mark – Lockheed’s other cargo lifter design of the same era, the C-141, developed some significant problems with premature wing cracking that led to restrictions on use and early aircraft retirement.
What can I say? This whole upgrade program smacks of congressional pork forcing the family to re-engine their 1974 Ford Econoline van instead of buying a late-model minivan that does everything they need it to.

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ohwilleke September 26, 2007 at 11:45 am

More cynical minds might suggest a conspiracy between the contractor and the brass to get the force mix they really want, but I’m sticking with the plain old Defense contractors’ business model includes underbidding all jobs theory.

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irtusk September 26, 2007 at 3:13 pm

> but reliability counts for a lot, and the C-5 has been anything but reliable.
hence the need for the AMP/RERP programs
> It was intended to be able to carry 2 M-1 tanks, but as the weight of the tank has increased, it can only carry a single fully-equipped tank.
good thing the RERP is supposed to give “a significantly increased cargo load”
> I’d also be interested in finding out how often the extra cargo capacity of the C-5 vs. the C-17 is actually used.
i imagine most every time they fly from the US across the Atlantic. The military loves its pallets and they aren’t going to allow open pallet spaces to be wasted
and to an extent it doesn’t matter how often the outsize capabilities are needed. If you need it, you need it and no amount of C-17s are going to provide it. The C-5 is a unique capability and should not be discarded so quickly
> The C-5 incorporates features intended to allow soft field operation, but these are never used.
you sure about that?
> Even if the engines and avionics are upgraded, there will be other components like hydraulic systems that are going to age out and impact reliability.
good thing the RERP program includes new hydraulics. and electrics. and fuel system. and fire suppression. and pressurization/AC. and APU.
> Even the airframe is a question mark – Lockheed’s other cargo lifter design of the same era, the C-141, developed some significant problems with premature wing cracking that led to restrictions on use and early aircraft retirement.
that’s why they performed a teardown of some of the oldest/worst performing airframes to determine how they were doing
and confirmed that the B’s have >80% of their service life remaining

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George Skinner September 26, 2007 at 4:15 pm

You can’t always upgrade a design that’s unreliable. For example, a hydraulic actuator itself might be a good component, but its installation might lead to an ongoing reliability issue. The “significantly increased cargo load” also isn’t going to help airframe life at all. Load it more, and it wears out faster. Part of the reason the airframes are relatively young is also because the reliability issues meant that they didn’t fly very often. And the utilization of the extended capabilities of the C-5 should be an issue in determining whether to go forward with this program: if the capability is only being used 10% of the time, it shouldn’t be necessary to upgrade as many airframes. If you just need the capability, keep some existing C-5Bs around and forget the upgrade entirely. Use the savings to buy more C-17s that can do the bulk of the work more cheaply and without the hassle of the upgrade.

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Tsgt Takeo September 26, 2007 at 5:33 pm

Speaking as an Aerial Porter, people who advocate an “all C-17″ force have their heads on wrong. The primary use of the C-5 is as an outsize cargo hauler. In fact, it’s not very often used for ordinary pallet transport anymore (A 747-200 will easily hold 42 pallets to the C-5′s 36, they just have to be sized appropriately). And the main issue no one talks about is the C-17′s comparitively short legs. In it’s military form it can’t be FAA certified because it has a fuel tank in the passenger cabin. (Look up, it’s right over your head if you stand near the lav door).
Most of the loads I’ve seen on C-5′s are things that just don’t easily fit on a C-17, or any other plane. No C-17 has the cargo capacity to carry 6 black hawk helicopters, a Chinook, or the president’s limo+entourage.
The argument has always been circular: The C-5 isn’t worth re-engining because it’s not reliable when the re-engining is what IS going to make it reliable.
We should have a mixed fleet: C-27, C-130, C-17, C-5 + Commercial contract, which is exactly what we have now.

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irtusk September 27, 2007 at 8:44 am

> just that this upgrade program sounds like a congressional pork barrel project.
i would say the pork is more likely from the other side
if this works as claimed we’ll have practically new aircraft that are substantially more capable than C-17′s for a fraction of the cost of a C-17
to me that sounds like an efficient use of money
both sides (Lockheed and Boeing) have substantial lobbying arms and influence in Congress so to call one side pork while completely ignoring the other, well . . .
> as is indicated by Air Force desire to reduce the size of the C-5 fleet (stymied by congress.)
maybe because the current fleet is so unreliable and costly to maintain?

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George Skinner September 27, 2007 at 10:49 pm

Except that the C-5 is only more capable than the C-17 in terms of total payload weight and payload volume. It doesn’t have the short field capability, it isn’t employed for air dropping troops, and doesn’t have the same on-board cargo handling equipment.
I’m sure that the Air Force considered the impact of the upgrade program on reliability in terms of their C-5 fleet requirements – there’s more to planning a cargo fleet than simply aircraft size. Airlines are a good example: they don’t fly 747s for every route, even though they cn carry more passengers. This also wouldn’t be the first time that the Air Force has wanted to cut fleet size of a type and Congress has interfered. The B-1 comes to mind, as does the mandate to restore a few SR-71s to service.
You should also do some more reading into the history of the C-5 program – not a pretty story by any stretch.

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irtusk September 28, 2007 at 12:19 am

> It doesn’t have the short field capability
oh really?
the air force and lockheed have a disagreement about the C-5B’s takeoff and landing performance (as the airforce uses more conservative assumptions for the C-5), so here’s both numbers
90F day, sea level, 170000 lb payload, fuel for 500 NM
takeoff length (wartime)
C-17: 3900′
C-5B (AF): 4800′
C-5B (LH): 4100′
landing using brakes and spoilers
C-17: 2600′
C-5B (AF): 2700′
C-5B (LH): 2490′
landing using brakes, spoilers and reverse thrust
C-17: 2370′
C-5B (LH): 2600′
C-5B (LH): 2370′
even using the more conservative figures the C-5 is very comparable to the C-17 in landing performance. The gap is a little bigger in takeoff performance, BUT WAIT! The RERP will improve takeoff performance approximately 30%
what does that do to takeoff roll?
takeoff length (wartime)
C-17: 3900′
C-5B (AF): 4800′
C-5B (AF) (RERP): 3360′
C-5B (LH): 4100′
C-5B (LH) (RERP): 2870′
what is that? the C-5 has better short field performance? that’s unpossible!
regardless, most C-17 flights today are NOT into austere runways, they’re landing at major bases that handle C-5s too. Yes it’s good to have some austere capability, but there’s no reason for the entire fleet to have it.
> Airlines are a good example: they don’t fly 747s for every route, even though they cn carry more passengers.
yes, that’s why we have smaller aircraft like the C-17 and C-130 and C-27J
> Except that the C-5 is only more capable than the C-17 in terms of total payload weight and payload volume
well those are pretty key features for a cargo plane wouldn’t you agree?
The C-17 is a fine aircraft for what it is, i’m not saying get rid of it at all. But don’t become so enamored with certain rarely used features that you lose sight of the big picures. Sometimes you simply need to push a lot of cargo, and nothing gets it done like a C-5.

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irtusk September 28, 2007 at 12:48 am

an interesting article on the use of the C-5 in spec-ops
http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/ac/docs/n19991208_992197.htm
also
http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/c-5m.htm
“As of mid-2002 C-5s had carried about 46 percent of the intertheater cargo on only about 29 percent of the missions flown in Operation Enduring Freedom.”
“With modernization, C-5 operators can realize a 34 percent less cost-per-flying-hour and 44 percent less cost per ton-mile of cargo – all at 20 percent of the cost of comparable new aircraft.”
“Modernizing the entire C-5 fleet represents the best fiscal value for the Air Force. The Air Force can’t afford not to modernize the fleet. With almost 35,000 cubic feet of cargo space, some warfighting equipment can only be carried by the C-5. The entire effort to modernize the C-5 will cost about $13 billion. Purchasing additional aircraft to replace the cargo-carrying capability of the C-5 could cost up to $38 billion.”
(some of the financial numbers are dated, but the point remains)

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Taylor McKInnon June 16, 2008 at 11:50 pm

The reserve and guard have operated the C-5A more sucessfully because of the greater experience of their full time technicians with the C-5A. The airplane spares were never stocked to an adequate level. The solution to our problem is to upgrade only the C-5B with the new engines. Assign these upgraded airframes to the active duty forces. Asibn the unmodified C-5A to the guard and reserve. Since they will have acess to all the C-5A spares, (TF-39 engine spares and avionics spares) with these advantages their mission capable rate should be acceptable if not spectacular! Taylor B. McKinnon, Major USAF retired. Logistian.

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Taylor McKInnon June 17, 2008 at 12:09 am

Convert only the C-5B.Assign the C-5A to the reserve and Guard.They will have acess to all the TF-39 engine spares. Those old Guard and reserve techniciansa will improve the Mission Capable rate orf the C-5A.

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Al "the camaroman" September 23, 2008 at 8:16 pm

Just want to say that it is very interesting to read about the C5 and the C17 aircraft. When I first saw that the C17 was being built, I thought it was bigger than the C5. I don’t think anything can be much bigger than the C5 (Although my uncle said the DC3 was the biggest that would be built and still fly).
I live in San Antonio Texas and the flight path takes the C5′s literally over my house to land at the old Kelly AFB (now part of Lackland).
Well anyway, I just wanted to say that I enjoyed reading your page.
Al

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Roy February 24, 2009 at 8:24 pm

I think the Airforce should take all the C5′s drain the oil and gas and put them in City Parks.
Bad designs are just that bad designs, money does not make a bad design better, just cost more.

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