Though Air Mobility Command is already looking ahead to a stealthy penetrating tanker in the 2035 timeframe, a new airlifter to replace the C-17 will be longer in coming, AMC chief Gen. Carlton Everhart told reporters at ASC16. The C-17, he said, has a lot of life left in it, though fleet improvements will likely come in the form of a new head-up display, a new oxygen generating system and putting extended range fuel tanks on those C-17s that don’t already have them. Everhart said the C-17 “drinks a lot of gas” and may benefit from a re-engining at some point, and he expects there will be a service life extension program, but it will probably be done incrementally when the jets come in for depot maintenance. Applying “fleet dynamics”—swapping aircraft out of high-corrosion environments like the Pacific and making sure the fleet ages evenly by tail number—will buy as much as ten years of service life, Everhart said. The C-17 could be a “60-80-year airplane,” Everhart said. Asked about when a “C-X” might be in the offing, he suggested that something smaller and stealthy might come sooner.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.