Minister for Defence Stephen Smith announced today that Australia is investigating the purchase of a sixth C-17A Globemaster III heavy-lift aircraft.
Australia has sent a Letter of Request to the United States regarding the potential purchase of an additional C-17A aircraft through the United States Foreign Military Sales program, formally seeking cost and availability information.
A sixth C-17 would give the Government increased options to support a wider range of contingencies that might require heavy-lift aircraft. Advice from Defence is that a sixth aircraft would double the number of C-17A aircraft available for operations at any one time compared to four aircraft.
Minister Smith made this announcement at the Amberley Air Force Base today at the ceremony marking the arrival into Australia of the Royal Australian Air Force’s fifth C-17A.
The acquisition of the fifth C-17A was announced by the Government on 1 March this year and was confirmed in the 2011-12 Budget.
On 14 September, Minister Smith took delivery of the fifth C-17A Globemaster III at Boeing’s Long Beach production facility near Los Angeles.
The Royal Australian Air Force’s five C-17A aircraft were delivered over the period 2006 to 2011. The first of these became operational in 2007, providing the Australian Defence Force with a global airlift capability.
The addition of the fifth aircraft to the Air Force’s fleet will expand Australia’s capacity to deploy personnel and equipment rapidly all around the world.
The C‑17A aircraft can lift very large and heavy cargoes over long distances providing a significant contribution to Australia’s ability to reach and respond to events. One C‑17A can carry up to four C-130 Hercules loads in a single lift and cover twice the distance in three-quarters of the time of a C‑130.
Events in Queensland, Christchurch and Japan earlier this year underlined the C‑17s as an essential part of Australia’s capacity to respond to natural disasters both within Australia and within our region.
The ability of C-17s to move equipment and people played a vital role in the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi in north Queensland in February, helping to transport ADF personnel and civilians and airlifting more than 320 tonnes of cargo, including more than 200 tonnes of food supplies. C-17s also helped evacuate to safety in Brisbane more than 250 patients from Cairns Hospital and Cairns Private Hospital.
C-17s also delivered much-needed equipment, stores and emergency services personnel to New Zealand in the wake of the terrible February earthquake in Christchurch and returned more than 100 Australian civilians to Australia.
In March, following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, C-17s moved more than a million pounds (450 tonnes) of cargo, including 41 vehicles, as well as 135 passengers as part of Australia’s relief efforts in Japan. At one stage during the relief operation, Australia had three C-17 aircraft in Japan providing humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief support.
While disaster relief has been a recent public focus for C-17 operations, they also continue to support Australian and International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan and the Middle East, meeting their primary purpose in providing military long-range heavy airlift.
Following receipt of cost and availability information from the United States, the Government will make a decision about the purchase based on capability, cost and schedule assessments of the sixth C‑17A.