Mr. President, I rise today to express my continued support for the C-17 cargo aircraft program and urge my colleagues to retain funding for 10 additional aircraft in the fiscal year 2010 Defense appropriations bill.
The C-17 is critical to our national security and our ability to efficiently carry out important missions around the world. Not only is this aircraft an indispensable asset in supporting military and humanitarian missions in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan; it has a proven record of versatility and high performance, and it sustains jobs that are essential across 43 States--including my home State of California.
First, I would like to talk about the types of missions where we use the C-17. According to the Air Force's budget justification for 2010, the C-17 ``is a major element of America's National Military Strategy and constitutes the most responsive means of meeting U.S. mobility requirements..... . The C-17 will perform the airlift mission well into this century.''
The C-17 is essential to our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan particularly because of its versatility. It is used to transport equipment, supplies and our service members. For example, the C-17 can land on a dirt runway to deliver needed supplies in remote regions of Afghanistan.
We also use the C-17 to evacuate our wounded men and women from Iraq to Germany, and then back to the United States for treatment. And in some instances, it has even been used to transport our service members across a combat zone, reducing the risks that they face when they travel on land by convoy.
And the uses don't stop there. The C-17 is used to deliver humanitarian supplies. In January of this year, a C-17 delivered 18,000 pounds of supplies to Nicaragua, one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere.
The C-17 has also been used to bring relief to Americans, including during Hurricane Katrina. It can deliver a 100-bed, fully equipped hospital to nearly any area with an unimproved airstrip.
This is an amazing capability, and one we cannot afford to lose.
Second, the C-17 has a proven record of performance. Quite simply, it is the workhorse of our military. And we are using them at a much higher rate than the Air Force originally intended.
C-17s have flown over 1.3 million flight hours since 2002. Many are flown at 150-180 percent of their anticipated flight hours.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the C-17 was designed to fly 1,000 hours per year over 30 years, but the fleet has averaged 1,250 hours per aircraft over the last ten years. Some have even reached 2,400 flying hours in a single year.
And finally, the C-17 is the last strategic airlift production line in the Nation. Every day 30,000 employees from 43 states go to work in direct support of the C-17. In addition to those 30,000 direct jobs, over 100,000 workers depend on this production line. In my home State of California, 13,800 people work on the C-17. And 19,200 workers have an affiliation with this aircraft.
Too many American jobs depend on this vital program. Before we take any action to shut down the line, we must be absolutely certain that we have all of the aircraft we need.
We cannot take the chance that we ``may'' have enough aircraft, particularly without reviewing two studies that are due by the end of the year.
The Department of Defense Mobility Capabilities and Requirements Study and the congressionally mandated study being done by the Institute for Defense Analyses will determine if our airlift requirements are being met.
We expect these studies to be complete by the end of this year. Without the results of these studies, we cannot determine that our Nation's airlift capability has been met. It would be incredibly shortsighted to shut down this production line without that information.
I urge my colleagues to join me in maintaining funds for the C-17, and to defeat the McCain amendment.