America’s ability to unpredictably project power nearly anywhere in the world on short notice is a strategic advantage that has become more valuable than ever before. The C-17 is a major part of this equation, able to move everything from Abrams main battle tanks to massive fuel bladders into short and even dirt airstrips. The video below highlights exactly this capability, with a C-17 accessing a dirt airfield, dropping off two AH-64 Apaches and living to do it again and again if need be.
The fact that the C-17 can flex from strategic airflifter, flying gear and personnel around the globe, to a tactical airlifter makes is unique within the Pentagon’s weapons portfolio. Many other countries have stepped up to the plate to buy their own C-17s, largely due to its versatility, but there are only so many air arms that require a $225 million heavy transport with intercontinental range. With slowing orders, Boeing has shuttered the C-17 production line and no more C-17s will be built.
There are initiatives to explore the possibilities of what a new transport aircraft can bring as the C-17 is now entering the middle of its career. Aircraft like the A400M may also offer an option for some of the C-17s mission set, but the fact is that America’s C-17 fleet will likely be upgraded and service-life extensions will be made before a true replacement program is ever started.
Considering how well the jet has performed over the last 20 years, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.