The British Royal Air Force has signed a deal for a seventh Boeing C-17 strategic transport aircraft to increase the size of its the fleet that has seen heavy usage during recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The order comes in addition to a RAF contract with Airbus Military for 25 of the slightly smaller A400M Loadmaster transports.
The UK Ministry of Defence says the C-17 Globemaster III has proven extremely popular with the RAF “and can operate in both strategic and tactical roles, combining transcontinental range with the ability to operate from short runways under basic conditions.”
The C-17’s huge capacity enables carriage of loads such as a Chinook helicopter or thirteen Land Rovers, or mixed freight loads of up to 73 000kg.
The new C-17 aircraft will join the rest of the fleet at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire when it enters service with the RAF in March 2011 after it has been fitted with self-protection measures.
This additional C-17 is part of the 900 million pounds package of enhancements for operations over the next three years announced by the Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, in December 2009.
“Afghanistan remains our top priority and this extra C-17 represents a major contribution to the strategic airlift directly supporting our troops in Afghanistan,” Ainsworth said.
“Since its entry into service in 2001, the UK’s C-17 fleet has provided outstanding performance in RAF service in support of operations, humanitarian relief and routine tasks.
“The additional aircraft will allow our strategic transport capacity to be expanded during a period of intensive coalition operations.”
Wing Commander Simon Edwards, the officer commanding 99 Squadron that flies the transport, added that the operational record of the C-17 is unsurpassed. “The current fleet of six aircraft deliver an incredible capability to our deployed forces and the announcement of a seventh aircraft will mean a great deal not only to the RAF but to the soldiers on the front line.” he said.
“There is no better way – and often no other way – to get vital equipment such as helicopters and large vehicles, such as Mastiff, where they are needed and when they are needed.”
Since the first aircraft was delivered in 2001, the RAF C-17 fleet has flown well over 50 000 hours, largely in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also including humanitarian relief work in South East Asia and Pakistan.
It can carry a number of different equipment types. For instance it can carry a Chinook helicopter or three Apache helicopters or three Warrior vehicles or even a Tornado F3 fighter.
Configurations can vary but as an example it can transport 45 500kg of freight over 4500 nautical miles (8000km), flying above 30 000 feet (9000 metres).