What Will Happen In The Western Military Transport Market?

transport aircraft at takeoff
Credit: Lockheed Martin

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The C-5 and C-17 are dated, and A400M is too small to compete. What will happen in the military transport market in the West? 

Aviation Week Defense Editor Steve Trimble answers: 

That’s an interesting question. I don’t want to be pedantic, but your question begs another question: What makes you say that the Lockheed Martin C-5M and Boeing C-17 are dated? They are certainly of an older vintage, but it doesn’t seem to me that the majority of the military transport missions have evolved beyond the capabilities of those two aircraft. You are correct that the Airbus A400M is smaller, but I might suggest that’s a feature in many contexts rather than a bug.

In any event, the answer to your question is that I expect more of the same in the military transport market for at least another decade; perhaps some progress will be made on stealthy refuelers and unmanned airborne logistics systems (albeit significantly smaller than the C-5 and C-17). Maybe in the 2040s, we’ll be ready to move to a very different technology for military airlift, including hybrid air vehicles. But anything beyond 2030 is just guesswork at this point.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.


Only A400M and Lockheed C130 are still in production, furthermore the Airbus aircraft can be quite easily stretched if required, therefore I think that the US needs to define their requirements for C5 and C17 replacement asap in order to avoid a quite big availability burden in the early thirties.
Unless of course they decide to buy "Americanized" A400M
Blended Wing Body with Open Rotor engines might be the next step.

It may even be stealth like the B-2
Well the C5 has been flying for 50 years and is doing fine with new systems and engines.

C17 is much newer. More relevant is how many hours are on the air frame?

If a 737 can be MAXed up and be competitive with a much newer aircraft (A320) , then there are not real improvements in a C-17 or C5 type.

We have something like 220 C-17s. Is there an air gap we don't know about?

The CRAF is activated to fill in during an emergency. Full on war we have the entire UPS, FedEx fleet to draw on let alone Prime and DHL.

At some point we just NEO the C-17 (and cockpit upgrades as a package when needed)
There are still a number of mothballed C-5As that could be converted to C-5Ms.
The NMA could not only have replaced the 767F, it could also have provided new 45-55K thrust class engines for a C-17neo.
But I guess the C-17A is good to go for a while as is.