(NSI News Source Info) January 31, 2009: Boeing on Thursday welcomed the Obama administration's mention of its C-17 transport plane on the White House website, the only weapons programme in production singled out by name, but said it was still awaiting word on possible orders in fiscal 2009 and 2010. Jean Chamberlin, vice president of global mobility systems for Boeing and C-17 programme manager, told Reuters she remained hopeful that the company's ahead-of-schedule performance, continued cost-cutting efforts and strong airlift demand would translate into more orders in coming years. The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III is a large American airlifter manufactured by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. The C-17 is operated by the United States Air Force, the British Royal Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the Canadian Forces, while NATO and Qatar have placed orders for the airlifter. In addition, Boeing has already spoken with a number of countries to offer C-17 aircraft as substitutes for the EADS A400 military transport, given significant delays in that programme, Chamberlin said in an interview. "We certainly have talked to a number of different nations," Chamberlin said. "We're ready to help with an interim solution while they wait for the A400M to be fielded." Airbus parent EADS this month said the plane built for seven European Nato countries, already two years late, could fall three to four years behind schedule. Britain's defence procurement minister this week refused to rule out cutting back Britain's order of 25 A400M aircraft, saying his country needed the strategic capability. Chamberlin said Boeing officials were available around the world to talk with A400M customers, but declined to name any specific countries with which talks had already taken place. Three assessments She declined to predict how many additional orders Boeing could get from the US Air Force over the next few years, or from international customers, and said much would depend on three separate assessments currently planned by the US military. The White House website refers to the C-17 and the KC-X air refuelling aircraft as 'essential systems' in its defence agenda. KC-X is the name of the competition for a new refuelling plane. One congressionally mandated look at strategic airlift needs is due to be completed by the independent Institute for Defense Analyses next month, while a mobility capabilities study is not expected to be finished until the fall. In addition, the Pentagon is also gearing up to study all its major efforts as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review conducted once every four years. Chamberlin said the high operational tempo in the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, proposed troop increases in the Army and Marine Corps, and ongoing need for humanitarian and disaster relief all point to growing demand for airlift, and possibly additional C-17 orders. Boeing already has orders from the US Air Force for 190 C-17 transport planes, and expects to get an additional order next month for 15 more planes approved in the fiscal 2008 war spending budget, Chamberlin said. The Pentagon initially planned to cap the C-17 programme at 180 planes, but lawmakers, keen to maintain high-paying jobs in their districts, where Boeing plants and suppliers are located, have repeatedly added funding for the programme. Boeing has invested large sums of its own money to keep suppliers on line until those orders are finalised. The fiscal 2008 orders will keep the C-17 production line running through the third quarter of 2010, Chamberlin said, noting Boeing also hopes to secure orders for 15 additional planes in the supplemental war budget for fiscal 2009. Further savings possible The fiscal 2010 budget prepared by the outgoing Bush administration did not include any C-17s, she said; but Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week said the new administration would review that proposal and submit its own to congress in the spring, possibly by the end of March. Given repeated mentions by President Barack Obama of the C-17 programme during his campaign, and most recently on the White House website, Chamberlin said Boeing was hoping for some additional C-17 orders in fiscal 2010. She said Boeing had given Obama transition officials data about the C-17 program but did not know the plane would be singled out: "We're encouraged by it, and surprised..." Boeing was working on a possible multiyear proposal that would extend production for several more years and offer the Pentagon even more cost savings, Chamberlin said. The C-17 line employs 30,000 people at Boeing and its suppliers. She declined to estimate the extent of possible discounts but said the company was continually working to reduce its production costs. "We certainly can offer options that will be affordable to the Department of Defense," she said. Analyst Joe Nadol at JP Morgan on Thursday said he expected Boeing's defense units to show modest top-line growth in 2010, but he predicted 'further risk to performance in 2011 and beyond, particularly on C-17' and future combat systems.
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