Both the Senate and House included provisions in their separate 2006 defense authorization bills that would permit the Air Force to purchase an additional 42 C-17 aircraft—taking procurement to the 222 airlifters USAF previously maintained it needed. However, the final defense bill—signed into law by President Bush on Jan. 6—calls for the Pentagon to match the need for an additional 42 to the QDR. That would seem to signal an endgame. But, lawmakers also instructed DOD to provide an assessment of intertheater airlift—with particular regard to moving the new Army elements and Special Operations Forces—along with the QDR or within 45 days of it submission. They also want assurance that USAF can sustain the C-17 line until there is definitive proof that the C-5 rehab program will indeed produce a better C-5 mission capable rate.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.