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The AMST Program's Lasting Legacy.

Although canceled in 1979, the Advanced Medium Short-Takeoff-and-Landing Transport (AMST) has an enduring legacy-the C-17 Globemaster III, the nation's premier military transport plane of the twenty-first century. Initially, the AMST was slated to replace the Vietnam-worn C-130 tactical airlifter. However, politics, inflation, and national security priorities redirected the program. There were many similarities between the two programs: they shared the same acquisition philosophy, funding difficulties, and adverse politics. But more importantly, the AMST gave the C-17 its tactical and small austere airfield capabilities. Its YC-14 and YC-15 prototypes served as starting points for designing the new airlifter. Lastly, the AMST provided the impetus for a radical change in airlift doctrine, as limited resources, pressing mobility requirements, and technological advances eventually drove leaders to reject the rigid separation of tactical and strategic airlift so long maintained. The merging of these two missions resulted in the C-17 gaining its dual role. For these reasons, the AMST is significant.

AMST Origins: Congressman Price's Support

Among the findings of the Air Force's Project Forecast study of 1963-1964, were recommendations to develop a CX-Heavy Logistics Support Aircraft, that became the C-5, and a vertical-short-takeoff-and-landing aircraft (VSTOL) to fill the gap between the capabilities of C-130s and helicopters. However, the technology needed for a VSTOL aircraft had not matured. In their January 1970 congressional testimony before the House Armed Services' Subcommittee on Military Airlift, Tactical Air Command (TAC) officers acknowledged as much to the chairman, Melvin Price (DIL), a staunch supporter of airlift requirements. (1) Additionally, TAC was willing "to take a realistic view and admit that the C-130 and its replacement should be operated more rearward to avoid heavy enemy fire, and that aircraft of lesser cost must handle the far-forward requirement." (2) A more forward role for the Air Force's tactical airlift, however, was unlikely given the Army's sizeable inventory of frontline helicopters. Thus, TAC opposed develo ping the light intratheater transport (LIT) to replace the C-7s and C-123s, even though Air Staff analysis supported a LIT, STOL, and conventional aircraft solution as best meeting future requirements. (3) Had the Air Force persisted, the 1957 DOD directive on service roles and missions, and the 1966 McConnell-Johnson Agreement on fixed and rotary wing aircraft employment would have settled the mission dispute in the Army's favor. (4) Congressman Price and subcommittee members were receptive to TAC's request for developing a turbofan STOL aircraft with greater payload and capabilities than the turboprop C-130. Originally, the basis for the request came from a USAF Tactical Airlift Center review of tactical airlift operations in Vietnam, that acknowledged the obsolescence of the light transports--the C-7 and C-123--and advocated replacing the aging C-130s, essentially the A and B models worn down by wartime use. That Gen. William W. Momyer, formerly the deputy commander for air operations and Seventh Air Force commander in Vietnam, was the commanding general of TAC at the time was not lost upon the subcommittee, as it completed its major review of military airlift. After all, Momyer had gained approval to form the 834th Air Division, to ensure the efficient management and control of airlift within Vietnam. (5) No one was more qualified than Momyer to advise on future tactical airlift requirements.

General Momyer had participated in the tactical airlift modernization briefing to Gen. John D. Ryan and Robert C. Seamans, Jr., the Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Air Force, respectively, and had opposed the VSTOL LIT course, promoting a new STOL aircraft to replace the C-130. Based upon his wartime experiences, Momyer told Ryan and Secretary Seamans that the Army would continue supplying the front lines via heavy helicopters under its air mobile concept. As a result, intratheater airlift would operate into airfields farther in the rear; a STOL with takeoff and landing performances of between 1,500 and 2,000 feet would suffice. (6) In the 1970s with larger and heavier self-propelled firepower, the Army needed the AMST to transport the 8-inch and 155mm self-propelled howitzers, Vulcan air defense gun, and Chaparral guided missile system. The Army noted that the AMST would transport 23 items, which the C-130 could not. Nor was the C-130 highly regarded as a STOL capable aircraft. (7)

The introduction of the strategic C-5A also had an influence, driving a need for a more efficient theater distribution system. A new AMST intratheater airlifter would ensure a rapid redistribution of supplies and equipment brought in by the huge cargo-hauling C-5. The average payload of the AMST would be 14 tons while the C-130 could carry 10 tons and required a longer runway (3,500 feet). Additionally, with its wide body and STOL capabilities, a new tactical airlifter would be able to transport to the forward area 90 percent of an Army brigade's combat essential vehicles. The C-130 could haul only 55 percent of the vehicles needed. (8)

The subcommittee report further noted that while the Military Airlift Command (MAC) had emphasized modernizing its strategic airlift capability by replacing the C-97s and C-124s with the more efficient C-141 and C-5 jet aircraft, "an approved program to modernize the Tactical Airlift Force appears to be nonexistent." (9) In his testimony, General Ryan had provided little on modernization plans, although there had been extensive discussions prior to the hearings. TAC had even written a draft required operational capability (ROC) statement for a medium STOL transport, with the vice chief of staff of the Air Force requesting comments from the overseas commanders. (10) Ryan may have reasoned as follows. First, he realized that modernizing tactical airlift would take funding away from other Air Force programs. He indicated this was the situation in a March 1970 message. Secondly, while the LIT program was favored, it would face strong opposition from the DOD, as the LIT competed with the Army's helicopters. The mo re service-acceptable STOL solution, however, meant the Air Force would concede part of the mission to the Army in the near term and would eventually have to accommodate the Army's desire to coordinate its helicopter supply operations with the C-141 and C-5 at the large, safe air bases. Additionally, the C-5's airlift capacity would be taken up transporting helicopters to the overseas combat theaters. (11)

In the end, Price's subcommittee allayed all concerns. The final report recommended the Air Force procure an off-the-shelf STOL to address the immediate replacement of the C-7 and C-123 (the Army's interest), continue the VSTOL as a research and development program (favored by the Air Staff), and develop the STOL (TAC's request), with greater payload and operational capability than the existing C-130. Developing the STOL should receive the "highest priority" in the Air Force's fiscal year 1972 budget, the report stated. (12) The Air Force dutifully complied.

Essential Requirements

Aware of the pending discussions on consolidating airlift as well as the need to coordinate Air Force airlift efforts, Momyer shared his views on a new tactical transport with Gen. Jack J. Catton, the Air Force's strategic airlift commander:

The follow-on STOL to the C-130 should have better performance in terms of takeoff and landing high speed, ability to operate in and out of more rudimentary airstrips and a larger cargo compartment. I do not think this aircraft should be able to accommodate the Army's outsize cargo. Such cargo is primarily represented in their mechanized forces and should be brought into battle by surface means. The new STOL should be optimized for the other tactical features described in order to operate in and out of those relatively forward bases with a minimum of exposure. The size of the aircraft becomes a major consideration because of vulnerability, cramped space on the airfield and limited cargo unloading areas. All of these things plagued us in Vietnam even with C-130s when we got into a major operation. (13)

By May 1970, TAC had finalized a required operational capability (ROC, 52-69) statement for a medium STOL transport. The command sought a rapid self-deployment capability and an employment capability that took a 14-ton load (tracked and towed equipment) into an austere (14) airfield. Among the essential requirements were inflight refueling, a 2,600-nautical mile unrefueled range with a 19-ton payload, a long-range cruising speed of at least .75 Mach above 20,000 feet, and the ability to operate with a 14-ton (28,000 pound) load from a 2,000-foot-long by 60-foot-wide runway during the midpoint of a mission. The aircraft would have a cargo handling system compatible with the 463L pallet, ground loading height of 50-57 inches, and front on/offloading with rear onloading. It would be capable of airdrop operations. At this juncture, the AMST could not carry the outsized (15) M-60A, the Army's main battle tank. Later, the AMST specifications would serve as the baseline for developing the requirement documents for t he much larger C-17.

Prototype Source Selection

The acquisition philosophy of the AMST program rested upon building demonstration airplanes or prototypes before the government would decide to proceed. David Packard, of Hewlett-Packard, championed the concept while serving as the deputy secretary of defense. Packard was well aware of the cost overruns of the C-5A acquisition program, which had discredited the total package procurement concept. Under the prototype philosophy, all of the engineering development and all of the technical uncertainties would be resolved ahead of a major production effort. This concept was commonly known as fly-before-you-buy. (16) The AMST along with the Light Weight Fighter (later the F-16 and F-18) were the first programs selected by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for prototyping. The contract issued, as well as the management approach for the C-17, reflected Packard's influence.

Lt. Gen. James T. Stewart, commander of the Aeronautical Systems Division, released the AMST requests for proposals at the end of January 1972. Each contractor was to provide a technology demonstrator. The Air Force would evaluate the design, technology, and military usefulness of the offers. There was no commitment for further development of the prototypes. Refraining from designing the aircraft by issuing specifications, the Air Force, instead, provided goals, such as a STOL payload of 14 tons, airdropping 80 paratroopers, and a landing gear capable of a California Bearing Ratio (CBR) (17) of 6--soil consistency of a golf course fairway. Imbued with Packard's philosophy, the Air Force sought the most for its money. (18) In similar fashion, the Air Force provided guidance and mission performance goals for the C-17 but refrained from designing the aircraft.

AMST proposals came from Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, Fairchild, and Bell as well as a joint offer from Lockheed Martin-North American Rockwell. The Air Force completed source selection evaluations by the beginning of July. On November 10, 1972, after receiving OSD approval, Secretary of the Air Force Seamans authorized awarding the Boeing Company and the McDonnell Douglas Corporation contracts, each to build two AMST prototypes. The Air Force planned for a first flight thirty-five months after contract award. Initially, the contracts provided Boeing and McDonnell Douglas $96.2 million and $86.1 million, respectively. The contractors were to keep their designs to a unit cost goal of $5 million (FY 1972 dollars). If all went well, the Air Force planned to receive its first AMSTs in 1980. (19)


From inception, not unlike the C-17 program, securing funding and support remained a problem. Both Boeing and McDonnell Douglas invested their own money in the program, believing commercial airlines and foreign countries would purchase the aircraft as well. Prospects of foreign military sales to Iran and Saudi Arabia existed. For the first two years, the program received $6 million (FY 1972) and $25 million (FY 1973), but then in December 1973, the House Appropriations Committee decreased the authorization for fiscal year 1974 from $65 to $25 million. Chaired by George H. Mahon (D-TX), the committee, was not convinced the AMST was necessary and stated that a modified C-130 could serve the long-term tactical airlift requirements. (20) Politics factored in as well. Losing out in the AMST competition and with no C-130s in the Air Force's budget, Lockheed had sought congressional support. (21) Lockheed's Aeronautics Company was located at Fort Worth, Texas.

This congressional action thoroughly disrupted the AMST program and raised legal concerns. The Air Force debated whether to proceed with two contractors but knew that it could not terminate one without jeopardizing the prototyping effort and facing criticism for its program management. There were also cost considerations. After much discussion, Air Force Secretary John L. McLucas decided to continue with the two contractors. A restructuring of the program in March 1974, reduced the funding request for fiscal year 1975, stretched out the program, and raised prototype development costs from $182.3 to $229.1 million. (22)

There was also pressure to make the AMST a civil-military airplane. Senate Armed Services Committee member Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX) had impressed upon William P. Clements, Jr., the Deputy Secretary of Defense, that the AMST also needed to be commercially marketable, or Bentsen would withhold his support. So prompted, on June 22, 1973, Clements wrote a memorandum to McLucas. Although the Air Force had, in its congressional testimony, talked of the AMST's commercial application, Clements wanted to ensure it and requested that Boeing and McDonnell Douglas be so informed. (23)

Clements' memo further disclosed service politics when he also directed McLucas to seek concurrences from the Army and the Navy on the AMST's configuration, especially the size of the cargo compartment. The Army's AMST project officer at the Air Staff had tried several times to reduce the cross-section of the AMST to that of the C-130's and C-141's and to reduce the landing/takeoff goals and flotation capability. Simply, the Army desired to protect its heavy-lift helicopter (HLH) from the AMST. (24) A year earlier, General Momyer had drawn the same conclusion. "It is obvious what is going on--freeze Air Force out of the theater airlift and handle with a direct interface between the heavy lift helicopter and the C-5. The M [Medium] STOL is a real threat to the future of the heavy lift helicopter hence the challenge on any grounds." (25)

Flight Test Program

The first prototype, McDonnell Douglas' YC-15, flew on August 26, 1975; Boeing's YC--14 did so on August 9, 1976. McDonnell was able to field its prototype sooner, as it had taken a "cut and paste" approach. For example, the landing gear came from the C-141. Along with a more conventional look, McDonnell had also selected less advanced technology. Boeing, on the other hand, took its YC--14 through seven separate design refinements. Boeing's decision to refine its design resulted in a longer wing configuration, which gave the YC-14 a medium-range STOL capability as well as the longer range desired by the Military Airlift Command, that took over the program the end of 1974, as a result of the consolidation of tactical and strategic airlift management. The Military Airlift Command desired that the AMST transport a meaningful payload to the theater without relying on limited air refueling resources. As a result, the two prototype contractors evaluated pylon tanks, longer wings, and more powerful engines to meet t he basic 2,600-nautical-mile, 19-ton deployment mission. Originally, the prototype contracts had primarily asked the contractors to investigate and demonstrate STOL technology and did not specifically request a deployment payload. (26)

AMST flight testing, comprised of a combined developmental test and evaluation and a limited initial operational test and evaluation, ended in August 1977, when Boeing completed its testing. McDonnell had finished its program a year earlier. During flight testing, the prototypes exceeded their performance specification goals. McDonnell Douglas' YC-15 test program concentrated on confirming flight characteristics, performance of the externally blown flap, and STOL operations. As designed, the YC-15 demonstrated its ability to land on a 2,100-foot runway with no special requirements. The YC-15 flew cross-country, underwent ground loading of Army equipment, performed aerial refueling proximity tests, and laid the groundwork for heavy equipment airdrops. Testing also included airflow measurements of the cargo ramp and the troop door. During its year-long flight testing, the YC-15 made 292 flights, amassing 553.4 hours. Additionally in 1977, McDonnell Douglas tested a new wing to increase the range of the YC-15 an d a high bypass turbofan engine capable of 22,000 pounds of thrust, an increase of 4,000 pounds per engine. Boeing's two jet engines provided 50,000 pounds of thrust each. (27)

Beginning its test program a year later, Boeing adapted more to evolving requirements. Testing Boeing's YC-14 included: load testing howitzers and the AN-1G attack helicopter, heavy equipment airdrops up to 20,000 pounds, STOL landings that exceeded the requirements, a maximum gross takeoff weight of 213,000 pounds, the ground loading of the Army's M-60A main battle tank (109,000 pounds), semi-prepared soft-field runways with a combat offload of a 10,000 pound pallet, and aerial refuelings. The YC-14 with a gross weight of 160,000 pounds achieved a STOL stopping distance of just over 800 feet using thrust reversers at reverse idle. With the same weight using only the thrust reversers, the aircraft realized a stopping distance of 1,500 feet. In addition, the YC-14 performed STOL approaches with a glide slope of nearly six degrees with little or no flare used prior to landing. The YC-14's landing configuration enabled sink rates of between five and eleven feet per second. (28) During the 1995 reliability, maint ainability, and availability evaluation, the C-17 showed off its YC-14 and YC-15 heritage by landing in less than 2,000 feet on an unimproved runway in the Mojave Desert. (29)

At the conclusion of the AMST test program in 1977, the commander of the Air Force Test and Evaluation Command, Maj. Gen. Howard W. Leaf, expressed his satisfaction with both the YC-15 and YC-14 prototypes. The Air Force Systems Command (AFSC) initiated the source selection process in September 1977, intending to award the production contract in April 1978. (30) But events had already begun to overtake and then reshape the program.

Strategic Airlift Emerges

Within a year of the prototype source selection award, the Israeli-Arab Yom Kippur War of 1973 disclosed a need for the United States to possess a viable response capability for the Middle East. For its part, MAC, using its C-5 and C-141 aircraft, rushed supplies, ammunition, and equipment to Israel. Hampered by the vast distances (on average 6,450 miles one way), unavailability of en route facilities, and lack of an air refueling capability, the crisis pressed U.S. strategic airlift resources despite their good showing against Soviet airlift aircraft.

In the aftermath, a series of studies in the mid-1970s documented a need for more strategic airlift. Although there were initiatives to increase the strategic airlift capability, war plans still disclosed a shortage in strategic airlift. (31) Given the documented need for more strategic airlift coupled with the recent events in the Middle East and Congress' and OSD's growing viewpoint that a C-130 might do just as well for less money, it was not surprising that MAC, when it published in December 1975 a revised required operational capability (MAC ROC 9-75) for the AMST, broadened the mission of tactical airlift: "The AMST will augment the strategic airlift forces during the initial stages of an international crisis." (32) Further,

The speed of the augmenting AMST is compatible with the block speeds of the strategic transport aircraft, while the AMST's range and cargo-carrying capability allow it to carry increased payloads over C-130E critical legs. The AMST will also be air-refuelable which increases its range, payload, and the number of missions flown during the period of time it is utilized in a strategic role. The best use of the AMST in augmenting strategic airlift is when full advantage is taken of the AMST's wide-bodied characteristic in conjunction with the cargo-carrying capabilities of the strategic airlift forces. (33)

Moreover, both MAC ROC 9-75 and the subsequent employment concept document for the AMST stated tactical airlift would airland supplies as well as airland/airdrop combat units over "extended distances," specifically to or between theaters of operations. MAC ROC 9-75 also spoke of providing "direct insertion," the seeds of the C-17's direct delivery capability. (34) A USAF headquarters (Studies and Analysis) study had concluded that tactical C--130E/H and AMST aircraft could augment the strategic airlift force until hostilities broke out during a NATO contingency. Using tactical assets in the strategic role reduced the procurement of that amount of strategic airlift. (35) Military officials were keen on improving deployment closure times.

Erosion and Competition

Politics also persisted. In January 1976, Gen. Paul K. Carlton, the MAC commander, penned to his deputy chief of staff for operations: "We and the Army better defend the AMST Requirement better than we have or this [C-130] is what we will get! Comment." (36) Brig. Gen. Charles C. Irions' staff replied that the Air Staff and the command continued to challenge Lockheed's attempts to offer a modified C-130 to OSD and Congress. Of Lockheed's military transport line, only the C-130 was still in production, and then mostly for foreign sales. The Air Force had not included the C-130 in its budget requests after 1973, and Lockheed had secured its production line by getting C-130s added to the military appropriations bill. (37) As to the Army's lagging support, Carlton was told the Air Force had pushed hard in the 1970s for the Army's support of a new light intratheater transport and, after having secured the Army's support, dropped the LIT in favor of the AMST. The C-5 program had also created some unfavorable impres sions. Additionally, the Army's heavy lift helicopter and the AMST had similar, hence competing, intratheater roles. (38)

In March, Carlton sent Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David C. Jones letters to pass on to key Army commanders. Of concern was the Army's input to the decision coordinating paper for the Defense System Acquisition Review Council Milestone II decision scheduled for September 1977. The decision before the council was whether to begin full-scale development of the AMST or cancel the program. The Army, however, was undertaking a review of its tactical airlift requirements, and until the results were published, senior Army leaders provided no support. (39) The best Carlton could do was a statement from Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Walter T. Kerwin, Jr., who told the House Armed Services Committee in May that the Army "very badly needed the capability." (40)

And there was erosion. In November 1975, the Research and Development Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee had conducted hearings on the state of military airlift. The subcommittee's report, released in April 1976, revealed the AMST was no longer the sole replacement for the C-130. Chairman Price had compromised. "Lockheed provided an analysis of C-130 and AMST fuel comparisons. The analysis shows that for a typical 400 nautical-mile-radius, tactical airlift mission use of the C-130 provides fuel savings of about 250 million gallons a year and, at 42 cents per gallon, cost savings of over $100 million." Now a mixture of AMSTs and C-130s were regarded as the "best bargain." (41) In light of the Arab oil embargo against the U.S. and other nations for supporting Israel and the United States' dependence on foreign oil, Lockheed had a powerful argument. Thus, the stage was set: Lockheed would repeatedly challenge McDonnell Douglas and then Boeing over the C-17 as well. Retrospectively, it was simply a matter of "business is business and companies are in business to make money." (42)

While Lockheed's end run at the AMST could be faulted for the erosion, the AMST competed against other aircraft modernization and modification programs and had to accommodate evolving national security requirements. The Israeli airlift, during the Yom Kippur War, had highlighted a need for air refueling capabilities and for more strategic airlift to transport outsize loads of tanks and helicopters rapidly. MAC sought funding for an advanced tanker cargo aircraft (ATCA), what became the KC--10. The command also needed funding for stretching and adding an air refueling capability to the C--141, fixing the C--5's wings, and procuring a C--XX (43) strategic airlift replacement aircraft (civil-military partnership). On the latter, Carlton was especially proud of his several-year effort, believing the C-XX would nearly triple the nation's airlift capability. Industry, however, embraced the C-XX in a lukewarm fashion. (44) Carlton and his successor, Gen. William G. Moore, also devoted much energy to an enhancement p rogram for the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, thereby gaining additional oversize cargo capacity. Congressional support had to be "worked." P. K. Carlton laid out his need in the House to Congressmen Mel Price and in the Senate to Sam Nunn (D-GA), member of the influential Senate Armed Services Committee and champion of Lockheed's interests. (45) Thus, the inherited AMST was one of many programs advocated by MAC.

An Outsize AMST

In March 1976, the Air Staff queried AFSC and MAC about using an AMST derivative as a primary strategic, outsize cargo aircraft.

Could non-STOL derivatives of one or both of the AMST prototype designs be developed to meet the following intertheater airlift missions? (1) Transport without refueling any single type of equipment presently carried by the C-5 over the current unrefueled C-5 range at maximum payload. (2) Transport on a routine basis an M-60 tank weighing 111,000 lbs over the following unrefueled ranges: (A) 4,000 NM, (B) 3,000 NM, (C) 2,000 NM. (46)

As a result, the Aeronautical Systems Division studied the matter and concluded that a strategic derivative of the current AMST prototypes was not viable, due to insufficient cargo box size and range performance. A strategic derivative of a redesigned AMST was feasible, provided a larger cargo box, new wings, and more powerful engines were incorporated. MAC did not favor growing the AMST to carry more of the Army's outsize equipment "unless it can be assured that these changes will neither degrade AMST STOL capability nor jeopardize the program's completion." (47)

MAC remained keen on maximizing the AMST and pushed its strategic airlift augmentation concept. Boeing and McDonnell Douglas had already redirected their efforts to this end, testing and conducting paper studies. In early April 1977, the command's vice commander, Lt. Gen. John F. Gonge, informed Lt. Gen. Alton Slay, the DCS/ R&D, that "to avoid degrading the acknowledged strategic shortfall, the AMST must be able to transport a meaningful self-support payload to the theater of operations, even though it would have to island hop." (48) This justified revising the minimum essential mission requirements stipulated in the 1970 ROC. The command would not accept less. Moreover, emerging Army concepts called for larger equipment, faster deployments, and more mobility within the theater. A compromised AMST program, offering a less than operationally capable aircraft, should not be presented as an option, General Gonge advised. (49) Thus, it was not surprising two weeks later when the AMST Configuration Steering Group , that included representatives from the Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps and was chaired by General Slay, decided on a longer wing to increase range and on the capability to transport the Army's main battle tank. (50)

In August 1977, the Army finally released its eighteen-month study of tactical airlift requirements. The main conclusion was already known. A tank-carrying AMST offered the Army the "most flexible and efficient tactical airlift system." (51) While the study found the C--130H/IV satisfactory for moving bulk supplies and light units, it "lacked sufficient box size to transport the Army's primary combat vehicles, i.e., main battle tank (MBT) mechanized infantry combat vehicle, self-propelled artillery, division air defense gun (DIVAD Gun), and numerous combat service support (CSS) vehicles." (52) In the 1950s, when the C--130 was designed, the Army had more infantry than mechanized or armored divisions. Over twenty years later, the situation was reversed, and the C--130H could only transport between 35 and 55 percent of a mechanized or armored division's combat vehicles. The C--5 provided the Army limited capability, as it lacked airdrop and STOL capabilities, possessed a small fleet size, and was primary a stra tegic airlifter. Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research, Development and Acquisition, Percy A. Pierre, recommended, in November 1977, that the Air Force proceed with the full-scale development of an outsize capable AMST. (53) The Army soon found, however, that it had thrown its full support to a program on its way out.

Carter Cancels

A change in Presidents left the AMST unsupported. Inclined to reduce defense expenditures, President Jimmy Carter withdrew funding for the costly AMST program in the fiscal year 1978 budget; it halted source selection and placed the program on hold. Support from key members of Congress, however, provided $5 million for source selection in the fiscal year 1979 DOD Appropriation Bill, to which Carter consented. But a year later the program was no more. Unit costs had doubled from the original $5 million and were expected to double again due to continuing inflation. (54) As directed, AFSC halted source selection in January 1978, and cancelled the program on December 10, 1979. (55) Besides the affordability issue of a $9 billion program, Defense Secretary Harold Brown rationalized that in a European conflict, rail and road transportation systems would compete favorably with the speed and responsiveness offered by a STOL tactical airlift system. He also judged the current Air Force and Navy tactical airlift resour ces along with the available short-range civil aircraft as sufficient for a global war. Thus, there was no immediate need to purchase additional tactical aircraft. (56)

Before the December 1979 cancellation, proponents continued to work for the AMST. Against this background, the C-17 program emerged. The Army's senior leaders were especially vocal in championing the AMST. They realized the only other aircraft available for outsize equipment was the C-5, and it could not operate into forward small austere airfields. Moreover, it was already heavily tasked in deployment plans. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Bernard W. Rogers told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the C-130 could not carry the XM-1 tank, proposed infantry equipment, and other self-propelled vehicles. The "AMST is needed and the STOL capability in particular is needed to get the equipment where we need it." Gen. Alexander M. Haig, Jr., the Commander in Chief of United States Army in Europe, was equally direct before the House Armed Services Committee. (58)

As to the Air Force's efforts, General Moore, the MAC commander, in his quarterly report to Defense Secretary Brown, politely disagreed with President Carter's decision to cancel the AMST. The previous quarter, Moore's statement that the AMST was the replacement for the C-130 had elicited this reply from Brown: "What about new C-130H instead?" (59)

In March 1979, Air Force leaders, appearing before the House Budget Committee, expressed concern over the ability to support forces or rapidly redeploy them within a theater. Air Force Secretary John C. Stetson and Chief of Staff General Lew Allen stated it was "essential to identify and produce a new wide-body tactical airlift aircraft to replace the C-130 and to keep pace with Army requirements." (60)

In September, as the situation deteriorated, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Edward C. Meyer threw in his personal endorsement of the AMST. Meyer remained adamant about retaining the tactical focus of the AMST, although he acknowledged an enhanced strategic capability made the AMST more attractive. (61) In effect, the Army and Air Force were taking their case before Congress, as Defense Secretary Brown had already told Congress in February 1978 that the Carter Administration had decided to cancel further development of the AMST and would seek a more cost-effective program. (62)

Dual Role

As the final months unfolded, it was obvious that the AMST had to be more and more a strategic airlifter with just some tactical capabilities. A shift in airlift doctrine was underway. While there was a sincere attempt to define the kind of airlifter needed for wartime requirements, politics and subjective views influenced the process as well. In March 1979, Headquarters USAF issued a program management directive on the "Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST) Transition Program." This directive tasked AFSC and MAC to come up with range and payload combinations to add the strategic airlift capability desired by DOD officials. The joint service AMST Configuration Steering Group met to work the issue. Taking into consideration Army brigade and division movement and closure time requirements, minimum strategic design points were established: the ability to airlift 74,000 pounds of cargo for 2,600 nautical miles, 90,000 pounds for 2,000 miles, or 120,000 pounds for 1,300 miles. The 82d Airborne commander received a ssurances that airdrop operations would remain unaffected. The Marine Corps reiterated its interests in a tanker/cargo version of a strategically enhanced AMST. (63)

In the spring of 1979, the Air Staff released a study, that advocated a "swing" concept or the AMST. (64) While the MAC staff believed the AMST was capable of swinging between tactical and strategic airlift roles, they objected to the study's force structure and flying hour reductions and continued to favor the strategic augmentation role. One staffer disclosed the real concern: "The 'swing' concept proposes an aircraft that will 'do all,' and raises a question about the need for future airlift modernization. The C-5 wing modification and C--141 stretch program may be affected, but most certainly the C-XX program will be threatened by 'strategic' AMSTs.' (65)

Clearly, support was building within the upper levels of the OSD staff for a new aircraft. After a September briefing, Deborah P. Christie, OSD Director of Mobility Forces Division, previously an opponent of the AMST, found the new strategic capabilities attractive. (66) Gen. Robert E. Huyser, the new MAC Commander-in-Chief, sensed the moment. To General Slay, now AFSC commander, he expressed:

I have followed your exchange of letters with the Chief on the AMST. I have had discussions with Dave Jones and Hans Mark and believe the time is right to move on this program. The desire seems to McDonnell Douglas--if what they are putting out is correct, we can have such an aircraft without starting back at ground zero. They say they have what they need from the YC-14 and 15. I believe state-of-the-art technology has us at a point where we shouldn't define such an aircraft as tactical or strategic--we just discuss it as an airlifter capable of dual role. (67)

By the end of October 1979, the matter was over. Defense Secretary Brown had decided to improve the strategic airlift capability. He had met with the Air Force's General Allen and advised him to cease associated activities on the AMST program and proceed with the C-X program, emphasizing strategic airlift as the primary mission, an outsize cargo capability, and a fiscal year 1987 initial operational date. (68) The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan two months later and events in Iran confirmed the course. The United States required a more rapid global response capability. Thus, over a four-year period, the shortfall in strategic mobility reinforced by world events altered the whole basis for justifying the AMST program. From these efforts to recast the AMST for a dual strategic-tactical role with an outsize cargo capacity the C-17 Globemaster III benefited. The C-17 owes much to the AMST. C-17 operations during Bosnia, Yugoslavia, and now Afghanistan, validate the worth of a dual-role airlifter.

Betty Raab Kennedy is a staff historian at Headquarters, Air Mobility Command. Her published articles include "A Revolution in Air Transport: Acquiring the C-141 Starlifter," Airpower Journal (Fall 1991) and "Historical Realities of C-17 Program Pose Challenge for Future Acquisitions," Program Manager (November-December 1999). She has also authored An Illustrated History of Scott Air Force Base) 1917-1987 and contributed to Anything, Anywhere, Anytime: An Illustrated History of the Military Airlift Command, 1941-1991. She served with the US. Army Security Agency in Berlin and was an instructor at the Army Intelligence School, Fort Devens, Massachusetts. In 1982, she earned an MA in European History from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. She is a graduate of the Defense Language Institute and completed the Air Command and Staff College course. Ms. Kennedy is currently writing a history of the C-17 Globemaster III acquisition.


(1.) Headquarters, Military Air Transport Service, later Military Airlift Command (MAC), at Scott AFB, was located in Congressman Price's district. Hngs, House, Military Airlift: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Military Airlift of the Committee on Armed Services, 91st Cong., 2d sess, 1970, 6392.

(2.) Ibid.

(3.) Ltr, Brig. Gen. George W. McLaughlin to Gen. William W. Momyer, "Report of LIT Meeting with Vice Chief of Staff," Nov. 29, 1969; Ltr, Gen. William W. Momyer to Gen. Jack J. Catton, [Air Staff CDP on V/STOL LIT], Dec. 12, 1969.

(4.) DOD Directive, 5160.22, Clarification of Roles and Missions of the Departments of the Army and the Air Force Regarding the Use of Aircraft, Mar. 18, 1957; Agreement, Gen. John P. McConnell and Gen. Harold K. Johnson, Agreement Between Chief of Staff, U. S. Army, and Chief of Staff, U. S. Air Force, Apr. 6, 1966.

(5.) Rpt., (No. 91-59), House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Airlift, Military Airlift, 91st Cong., 2d sess, 1970, 9230, 9231; Ray L. Bowers, Tactical Airlift (USAF Office of Air Force History, Washington, DC, 1983), pp 190, 191.

(6.) Ltr., Gen. William W. Momyer to Gen. Jack J. Catton, [Air Staff CDP on V/STOL LIT], Dec. 12, 1969.

(7.) Point Paper w/atch, HQ MAC/XPQA, "Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST)," Oct. 5, 1976.

(8.) Document, HQ TAC, Required Operational Capability For Medium STOL Transport (TAC ROC No. 52-69), May 1970, p 1, 2; Fact Sheet, Lt Col Vincent Hughes, AF/RDQA, "AMST," Feb. 3, 1976.

(9.) Rpt. (No. 91-59), House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Airlift, Military Airlift, 91st Cong., 2d sess, 1970, 9230.

(10.) Hngs, House, Military Airlift: Hearings before the Subcommittee on Military Airlift of the Committee on Armed Services, 91st Cong., 2d sess, 1970, 6745, 6746; Msg., CSAF to PACAF and USAFE, "TAC Proposal For Modernization of Tactical Airlift Forces, Draft TAC ROC 52-69 For Medium STOL Transport (MST)," 24/2045Z Jan. 1970.

(11.) Ltr., Brig Gen. George W. McLaughlin to Gen. William W. Momyer, "Report of LIT Meeting with Vice Chief of Staff," Nov. 29, 1969; Msg., CSAF to TAC/DR, "Modernization of Tactical Airlift Forces," 05/1329Z May 1970.

(12.) Rpt. (No. 91-59), House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Airlift, Military Airlift, 91st Cong., 2d sess, 1970, 9231.

(13.) Ltr., Gen. William W. Momyer to Gen. Jack J. Catton, [Air Staff CDP on V/STOL LIT], Dec. 12, 1969.

(14.) Then defined as semi-prepared surface.

(15.) Outsized cargo was defined as exceeding the capabilities of the C-141, but fitting on a C-5.

(16.) Hngs., House, Hearings Before A Subcommittee On Appropriations, 92d Cong., 1st sess, 1971, 3-8, 14-20.

(17.) The California Bearing Ratio was the system used to classify landing surfaces for aircraft. Silt and clay surfaces rated as low as 3-5 while graded gravel and gravel sand mixes could range as high as 60-80.

(18.) George M. Watson, The Advanced Medium Short-Take-Off-And-Landing Transport (AMST) and the Implications of the Minimum Engineering Development (MED) Program, Air Force Systems Command Office of History (Andrews AFB, Md., nd), pp. 5, 6, 11; Hngs., Senate, Department of Defense Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1977: Hearings before a Subcommittee on the Committee of Appropriations, Part 5, 94th Cong., 2d sess, 1976, 411.

(19.) Watson, pp.8-10,12,14; Article, Vincent C. Hughes, "The Airlift Enigma and a Plan for the Future," Armed Forces Journal International, Oct. 1982, p. 25.

(20.) Hngs., Senate, Department of Defense Appropriations for Fiscal Year 1977: Hearings before a Subcommittee on the Committee of Appropriations, Part 5, 94th Cong., 2d sess, 1976, pp. 407-409; Watson, pp. 17, 21.

(21.) Article, Vincent C. Hughes, "The Airlift Enigma and A Plan for the Future," Armed Forces Journal International, Oct. 1982, p. 26.

(22.) Point Paper, HQ TAC/DRLL, "Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST)," May 8, 1974.

(23.) Watson, pp. 17, 19, 21.

(24.) Ibid., pp. 17, 19.

(25.) Ltr., Gen. William W. Momyer to Brig. Gen. Eugene W. Gauch, Jr., [SEA and AMST], Jul. 31, 1972.

(26.) MAC ROC, "Advanced Medium STOL Transport," Dec. 5, 1975, pp. 1, 2; Background Paper, HQ. MAC/XPQA, "C-14 Briefing," Mar. 22, 1976; Ltr. w/atch, Lt Gen. John F. Gonge to HQ USAF/RD, "AMST Operational Capabilities," Apr. 4, 1977.

(27.) Watson, pp. 32, 57, 62, 64, 66, 69.

(28.) Ibid., pp. 69, 71, 75, 78; Background Paper, HQ. MAC/XPQA, "C-14 Briefing," Mar. 22, 1976; Background Paper, HQ. MAC/XPSS, "AMST Derivative for Strategic Airlift," Jul. 22, 1976.

(29.) Article, Tony Bartelme, "Against the Wind: The Story of the C-17, 'High Cost, Bungled Past Threaten Plane's Future,"' Part 1, Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.), Aug. 20, 1995.

(30.) Watson, pp. 78,81; Ltr., Gen. William G. Moore, Jr., to Gen. David C. Jones, [Quarterly Activity Report], Jul. 26, 1977.

(31.) Besides the congressional hearings, see Study, HQ USAF (Studies and Analysis), Tactical Airlift in a Strategic Airlift Augmentation Role (SABER AUGMENT), Apr. 1975; Study, OSD, A Report to Congress on U.S. Conventional Reinforcements for NATO, Jun. 1976; Study, Logistics Management Institute, Vol I: The National Strategic Airlift Dilemma, Vol 2: The National Strategic Airlift Dilemma: An Approach to Solution (commonly known as the Estes Study), Apr. 1976; Study, JCS Memorandum 30-77, A Report on Strategic Mobility Requirements and Programs (known as the JCS Mobility Study), Feb. 1977; Study, Rand Corporation, Strategic Mobility Alternatives for the 1980s, Mar. 1977; Issue Paper, OSD (Program Analysis & Evaluation), Strategic Airlift and Air Refueling, Jul. 1977.

(32.) MAC ROC, "Advanced Medium STOL Transport," Dec. 5, 1975, p. 3.

(33.) Ibid.

(34.) Ibid., p. ii; Plan, HQ MAC/XPQA, Employment Concept for the Advanced Medium STOL Transport, Jun. 1975 (revised Nov. 1976), pp. 3, 12, 21.

(35.) Study, HQ USAF, Tactical Airlift Aircraft in a Strategic Airlift Augmentation Role (SABER AUGMENT), Apr.1975, p. iv.

(36.) Staff Summary Sheet w/atch, HQ MAC/DOQA, "Requirement for the AMST," Jan. 30, 1976.

(37.) Ibid., Article, Vincent C. Hughes, "The Airlift Enigma and A Plan for the Future," Armed Forces Journal International, Oct. 1982, pp. 25, 26.

(38.) Staff Summary Sheet w/atch, HQ MAC/DOQA, "Requirement for the AMST," Jan. 30, 1976; Article, Vincent C. Hughes, "The Airlift Enigma and A Plan for the Future," Armed Forces Journal International, Oct. 1982, pp. 25, 26.

(39.) Ltr., Gen. Paul K. Carlton to Gen. David C. Jones [Quarterly Activity Report], May 3, 1976. Memo., Dick Nemeth to Col. Duane H. Cassidy, [Dixon Ltr. to Army Four-Stars], May 14, 1976.

(40.) Point Paper w/atch, HQ MAC/XPQA, "Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST)," Jul. 14, 1978.

(41.) Rpt. (No. 94-40), House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Airlift, The Posture of Military Airlift, 94th Cong., 2d sess, Apr. 1976, pp. 7, 8.

(42.) Intvw, Col. Walter S. Evans, USAF (Ret.), with Betty R. Kennedy, Sep. 24, 1998.

(43.) The C-XX became known as the advanced civil-military aircraft (ACMA) and should not be confused with the C-X/C-17.

(44.) Ltr., Gen. Paul K. Carlton to Gen. David C. Jones [C-XX], Jan. 10, 1977; White Paper, NDTA Military Airlift Committee, "Summary Analysis," ca Apr. 1977.

(45.) Ltr., Gen, Paul K. Carlton to Gen. David C. Jones, [Nunn Support], Jan. 24, 1977.

(46.) Msg., CSAF/RD to AFSC/SD, "Use of AMST Derivative in a Strategic Airlift Primary Mission Role," 09/0014Z Mar 1976.

(47.) Background Paper, HQ MAC/XPSS, "AMST Derivative for Strategic Airlift," Jul. 22, 1976.

(48.) Ltr. w/atch, Lt Gen. John F. Gouge to HQ USAF/RD, "AMST Operational Capabilities," Apr. 4, 1977.

(49.) Ibid.

(50.) Background Paper, HQ MAC/XPQA, "Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST)," Jul. 5, 1977.

(51.) Study, USA Combined Arms Center, Advanced Medium STOL (AMST) Study, Aug. 1977.

(52.) Ibid.

(53.) Point Paper w/atch, HQ MAC/XPQA, "Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST)," Jul. 14, 1978; Ltr., Gen. William G. Moore, Jr., to Harold Brown, [Responses to Questions], Nov. 2, 1977.

(54.) Hist, MAC, FY 1978, pp. 216-18; Point Paper, HQ MAC/XPQA, "Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST)," May 17, 1977.

(55.) Msg., AFSC/SD to USAF/RDQ, "AMST Source Selection," 06/1330Z Jan. 1978; Program Management Directive R-Q 6131 (3), USAF/RD, "Program Management Directive for Cancellation to the Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST) Transition Program," Dec. 10, 1979.

(56.) Rpt., Harold Brown, "FY 1930 Budget, FY 1981 Authorization Request and FY 1980-1984 Defense Programs," Jan. 25, 1979.

(57.) Point Paper w/atch, HQ MAC/XPQA, "Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST)," Jul. 14, 1978.

(58.) Ibid.

(59.) Ltr., w/atch, Gen. William G. Moore, Jr., to Harold Brown, [October-December 1977 Quarterly Report] ,Jan. 5, 1978; Memo., w/atchs, RAdm. M. Staser Holcomb to Gen. William G. Moore, "CINCMAC Quarterly Report of 3 October 1977," Oct. 17, 1977.

(60.) Statement, John C. Stetson and Gen. Lew Allen, Jr., "Report to the 96th Congress," Mar. 1979.

(61.) Memo., Gen. Edward C. Meyer to Chief of Staff of the Air Force, "Advanced Medium STOL Transport (AMST)," Sep. 5, 1979.

(62.) Rpt., Harold Brown, "Annual Report Fiscal Year 1979," Feb. 2, 1978.

(63.) Ltr. w/atch, AF/RD, "Minutes-AMST Configuration Steering Group (CSG)," Jul. 24, 1979.

(64.) Study, AF/RDQ, Airlift Modernization: A Different Approach, Apr. 1979.

(65.) Staff Summary w/atch, HQ MAC/XPQA, "Airlift Modernization-A Different Approach," May 25, 1979.

(66.) Staff Summary w/atch, HQ MAC/XPQ, "Selling the AMST," Sep. 14, 1979.

(67.) Msg., CINCMAC/CC to AFSC/CC, [Strategic STOL], 22/2100Z Oct. 1979.

(68.) Paper, Col. Robert A. Cole, U.S. Army War College, "The C-17: In Perspective," Mar. 23, 1987.
AMST "Morphing" Into C-17

Israeli Airlift Fall of S. Vietnam Zaire Assistance
1973 1975 1977-78

 Tactical STOL Strategic Strategic Longer Wing
 Augmentation Derivative
Self-Deployment Direct Outsize Load
 Insertion (Army Tank)

 May 70 Dec 75 Apr 76 Configuration
 Steering Group
 Apr 77

Israeli Airlift Zaire Iran/ Afghanistan
1973 1977-78 1979

 Tactical STOL Tank Carrying Add Cease AMST
 AMST Strategic
Self-Deployment Design Poins Start C-X

 74,000lbs/2,600nm Dual Role
 90,000lbs/2,000nm Strategic Primary
 120,000lbs/1,300nm Outsize
 May 70 Aug 77 Configuration Oct 79
 Steering Group
 May 79
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Title Annotation:Advanced Medium Short-Takeoff-and-Landing Transport
Author:Kennedy, Betty Raab
Publication:Air Power History
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2001
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