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Globemaster III: Acquiring the C-17.

Globemaster III: Acquiring the C-17. By Betty R. Kennedy. Scott AFB, Ill.: Air Mobility Command Office of History, 2004. Tables. Photographs. Notes. Appendices. Glossary. Index. Pp. xv, 298.

Betty Kennedy has done a superb job of capturing the tortuous history of the birth and fielding of what is possibly the greatest airlifter ever made. In doing so, she has produced a book that should be read by everyone involved in weapon-system acquisition, requirements generation, and resourcing--and this includes generals, officers, civilians, Hill staffers and members, testers, and industry.

My enthusiasm for the book may be biased by the fact that I was the KC-10 manager on the Air Staff during one of the roughest times for the C-17--during fiscal year 1983, when the KC-10, Boeing 747, C-5, C-130, and C-17 were all players in the morass of sorting out the nation's mobility requirements and how best to meet them. But this is only one brief period of the nearly two decades it took to bring the C-17 into service.

The story really starts in the early 1970s when the Army and Air Force were starting to look at better ways to get materiel--some of it really big--onto the battlefield. The Advanced Medium Short-Takeoff-and-Landing Transport (AMST) technology demonstrators (Boeing% YC-14 and McDonnell Douglas' YC-15) never made it to production, but they provided a lot of the technology that drove the later C-X program. Kennedy covers AMST in adequate detail and, most importantly, shows how the requirements process (especially where the Army and Air Force were involved) never could quite come up with a definitive need. This plagued the development of a new mobility asset throughout the C-17's design life. For those who have been in the business, this is not really news. But I don't think most people realize how difficult it is to settle on exactly what is needed to carry out the nation's defense. There are differences of opinion professionally inter- and intra-Service; there are the tugs and pulls of the political process as Congressional "sponsors" of whatever company's product resides in one's district or state push what is the "obvious" solution to the "needs" of the warfighter; and there are the realities of what technology is really going to let the system produce.

And that's just the requirements part. Add to that well-intentioned plans that don't work out or sometimes just plain stupidity and mismanagement by both the Government and industry. Then there are over-expectations and under-achievements, the fact that the defense budget is not a bottomless well (as many believe it to be), palace intrigue in and around the Pentagon and Congress, and the reality that other items may become much more important than your program at the most inopportune times, and you end up with a pretty wild ride that can last for decades.

That is story of the C-17, and Betty Kennedy has captured and presented it very well. She used a wide variety of original and secondary sources and documented all of this in her extensive notes. Her appendices are all germane since they cover funding, schedule, deliveries, and specifications. The all-color photo collection covers the AMST program and the C-17's production, testing, and operational phases. And the glossary takes care of the interminable acronyms involved in any acquisition program.

Even though most readers will be aware that we finally got the C-17 and that it does, and will continue to do, marvelous things; this story leaves you wondering if this airplane is really going to ever show up in the U.S. arsenal. Excellent history.

Col. Scott A. Willey, USAF (Ret.), NASM Docent and Volunteer.
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Author:Willey, Scott A.
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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