Military Wiki

This wiki's URL has been migrated to the primary domain.Read more here


Military Wiki
Boeing C-17 Globemaster III in Australian service
Colour photo of a grey military aircraft flying just above the ground with its wheels extended
C-17 Globemaster A41-209 at Canberra Airport
Role Military transport aircraft
Manufacturer Boeing
Serial A41-206 to A41-211[1]
In service 2006–current

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) operates six Boeing C-17 Globemaster III large transport aircraft. Four C-17s were ordered in mid-2006 to improve the Australian Defence Force's (ADF's) ability to operate outside Australia and its region. The aircraft entered service between November 2006 and January 2008, the second pair being delivered ahead of schedule. Two further Globemasters were ordered in 2011, and the final aircraft was delivered to the RAAF in November 2012. The C-17s were built to the same specifications as those operated by the United States Air Force (USAF), and the Australian aircraft are maintained through an international contract with Boeing.

All of the RAAF's Globemasters are assigned to No. 36 Squadron and are based at RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland. The aircraft have supported ADF operations in Afghanistan and other locations in the Middle East, as well as training exercises in Australia and the United States. They have also transported supplies and personnel as part of relief efforts following natural disasters in Australia, Japan, New Zealand and several other countries. The C-17s are highly regarded throughout the Australian military for their ability to carry large amounts of cargo across long distances, and the process through which they were acquired has been identified as an example of good practice in defence procurement.



The RAAF began considering options for heavy transport aircraft to provide a strategic airlift capability during the early 2000s. This investigation was initiated after the ADF deployment to East Timor in 1999 and operations in the Middle East from 2001 revealed shortcomings in the RAAF's ability to transport the increasingly large and heavy vehicles and other items of equipment used by the Australian Army. To support these operations, the ADF found that it needed long-ranged aircraft capable of carrying larger loads than could be accommodated in the RAAF's force of Lockheed C-130 Hercules transports. As a result of this capability gap, the ADF needed to use USAF transports and chartered Russian-built commercial heavy lift aircraft to move supplies and equipment from Australia to its forces in Afghanistan and the Middle East. This experience proved frustrating, as both categories of aircraft were often not available and the commercial transports were expensive to lease.[2][3] In addition, the crash of a civil-chartered Ilyushin Il-76 in East Timor in 2003 raised concerns within the ADF about the safety of the Russian transport aircraft.[1] Following advocacy from the military, the Australian Government announced as part of an update to its national security strategy in December 2005 that it would consider acquiring heavy lift aircraft to supplement the RAAF's Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transports.[1][4] This initiative was one of several measures announced in the government's Defence Update 2005 paper, which sought to better prepare the ADF to operate in locations distant from Australia.[5]

In early 2006 a project office was established within the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) to evaluate the options for acquiring heavy lift aircraft. The office considered the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, which was in service with the USAF at the time, as well as the Airbus A400M Atlas, which was yet to make its first flight. Boeing aggressively marketed the C-17 to the Australian Government during this period.[1] In March 2006, Minister for Defence Brendan Nelson announced that the government had decided to purchase three C-17s and take out an option for a fourth.[1] Nelson also announced that the C-17s would be operated by No. 36 Squadron RAAF, which was to transfer its C-130H Hercules to No. 37 Squadron and relocate from RAAF Base Richmond in New South Wales to RAAF Base Amberley in Queensland.[6] Amberley was selected over Richmond as the base for the Globemasters as its runways and engineering facilities were better able to support large aircraft.[2]

The government exercised the option to purchase a fourth C-17 between the time this announcement was made and the signing of the final contract on 31 July 2006. The total cost of the four aircraft was $A821 million, and Boeing also received an A$85 million contract to allow Australia to join the "virtual fleet" global C-17 sustainment program.[7] Additional funding was allocated to build headquarters and maintenance facilities at Amberley as well as to upgrade the air movements facilities at RAAF Bases Darwin, Edinburgh, Townsville, and Pearce.[8] The package of funding needed to purchase and introduce the Globemasters into service was provided as a supplement to the government's long-term defence funding program, so the ADF did not have to forego any other planned capabilities.[5] The C-17s were acquired through the United States Government's Foreign Military Sales program, meaning that they were first delivered to the USAF and then transferred to the RAAF.[2] The USAF provided some of the C-17 delivery "slots" it had purchased to the RAAF to enable the type to rapidly enter Australian service, and there were no differences in the design of the Australian and American Globemasters.[7]

Delivery and sustainment[]

The RAAF received its first four C-17s between late 2006 and early 2008. The initial aircraft, which was allocated the serial number A41-206, was completed in October 2006 and arrived in Australia on 4 December that year.[1] A welcome ceremony attended by Prime Minister John Howard, Nelson and other dignitaries was held at Defence Establishment Fairbairn in Canberra.[9] The second aircraft, A41-207, was delivered on 11 May 2007. A41-208 was handed over to the RAAF on 18 December 2007, and A41-209 was accepted on 18 January 2008.[7] The first two aircraft were delivered in accordance with the expected schedule, and the third and fourth were each delivered two months early. The RAAF also acquired a C-17 flight simulator, which entered service in January 2010.[10] In the 2012–13 edition of its annual Major Projects Report, the Australian National Audit Office judged that a lesson for the Australian Government from the successful procurement of the first four Globemasters was that purchasing major equipment on an "off-the-shelf" basis allows "considerable acceleration of the standard acquisition cycle".[11] Similarly, Australian Strategic Policy Institute analyst Mark Thomson wrote in 2008 that "the breakneck speed with which the C-17 acquisition was executed (and the good outcomes of the acquisition) provides an example of what can be achieved" through off-the-shelf purchasing, and that such projects generally deliver better outcomes for the ADF than attempts to develop equipment tailored to Australia's needs.[12]

Colour photo of a grey military aircraft on the tarmac of an airport with people in casual clothes walking in front of it.

A41-206, the RAAF's first C-17, on display at the 2013 Australian International Airshow

The Australian Government ordered a further two C-17s during 2011 and 2012. In February 2011 Minister for Defence Stephen Smith announced that an additional C-17 would be purchased for a cost of $A130 million. This aircraft was ordered to prevent a shortfall of airlift capacity while the original four C-17s underwent scheduled heavy maintenance.[13] The decision to purchase this aircraft also supplanted an earlier plan to acquire an additional two C-130Js.[14] As the deadline for A41-206 to be temporarily taken out of service for maintenance was rapidly approaching, the USAF agreed to transfer a C-17 airframe that was nearing completion to the RAAF. This aircraft was delivered on 14 September 2011, and arrived in Australia nine days later. At the ceremony held to welcome A41-210, Smith announced that the government intended to order another C-17.[15] The $A160 million contract for this aircraft was signed in March 2012,[13] and it was delivered to the RAAF on 1 November that year.[16] Funding for these two aircraft was obtained through a combination of supplements to the Defence budget and reallocating unspent funds from ADF projects running behind schedule.[15] Owing to budget constraints and the scheduled closure of Boeing's Globemaster production line in 2015, it is unlikely that the RAAF will acquire additional Globemasters.[13]

Maintenance of the Australian Globemasters is undertaken by both the RAAF and Boeing. As part of Australia's membership of the Globemaster III Sustainment Partnership, Air Force technicians are responsible for routine servicing and Boeing handles major maintenance tasks. Boeing also provides technical support for RAAF Globemasters during deployments outside of Australia, and the company is paid in return for achieving contractually mandated aircraft availability targets.[17][18] Due to the economies of scale arising from a large international maintenance program, the contract with Boeing is considered to be cheaper than attempting to support the aircraft through unique Australian contracts.[19] It is expected that the RAAF's Globemasters will remain in service for 30 years.[19]

Because you can put the engines into reverse thrust while airborne [a definite no-no in most large jets] you know you can just drop out of the sky. The rates of descent and the rates of climb it has are just great.

—Flight Lieutenant Samantha Fairbairn, No. 36 Squadron, on the C-17[20]

The ADF and defence commentators have judged that the Globemaster acquisition has significantly increased the RAAF's airlift capabilities. The aircraft have a maximum range of 10,389 kilometres (6,455 mi) and are capable of operating from short and unsealed airstrips. Each Globemaster can carry up to 77,519 kilograms (170,900 lb) of cargo, and the large size of the aircraft means that it can accommodate outsize items. Maximum loads include 102 passengers, 36 personnel on stretchers, an M1 Abrams tank, three Eurocopter Tiger helicopters or five Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicles.[21][22] These are much larger loads than can be transported by the Air Force's C-130 Hercules transports, and the RAAF website states that each C-17 can carry three times as much cargo as a C-130.[22] Flown with a joystick and fly-by-wire controls, the C-17 is also highly manoeuvrable and responsive considering its size.[20] Ian McPhedran, the defence correspondent for News Corp Australia, has judged that the C-17s have "changed the game" for the RAAF by allowing the force to rapidly transport large amounts of cargo into combat zones.[23] According to aviation journalist Nigel Pittaway, the Globemaster's capabilities have made it a highly regarded asset throughout the Australian Defence Organisation.[24]

Operational service[]

Training and combat operations[]

A group of people wearing overalls standing together in front of three large grey aircraft.

Australian, British and United States C-17 Globemasters and aircrew in Britain during June 2007

Ahead of the delivery of Australia's first C-17s, RAAF personnel received training on the aircraft in the United States. From May 2006 a group of pilots and loadmasters led by Wing Commander Linda Corbould, the commanding officer designate of No. 36 Squadron, undertook conversion training with the USAF's C-17 units at Altus Air Force Base and Charleston Air Force Base. A group of 48 technical personnel also received training at Charleston and McChord Air Force Base from September that year.[7] No. 36 Squadron began a period of intensive training once Corbould delivered A41-206 to Amberley on 7 December 2006, and the unit achieved initial operating capability status in September 2007.[7][8] Also in 2007, the RAAF's No. 1 Air Operations Support Squadron was expanded by 80 personnel to provide air load teams to support the Globemasters.[25] A project to acquire the equipment needed to allow the RAAF's C-17s to be used in the aeromedical evacuation role and develop associated crew procedures began in late 2007. The first Globemaster aeromedical evacuation sortie was flown on 5 September 2008, the day after the type was certified to operate in this role.[26] On 8 December 2008, Corbould led the RAAF's first all-female aircrew during a training flight over South East Queensland to mark the second anniversary of the entry of the Globemaster into service.[27] A team of USAF trainers was posted to Amberley until the RAAF had sufficient C-17 pilots who were qualified to instruct others.[7] The RAAF began training new C-17 pilots in early 2010 after the flight simulator was delivered, and the first Australian-trained pilots graduated in early May that year.[28][29] No. 36 Squadron achieved final operating capability status in December 2011.[30] The components for a simulated C-17 cargo compartment were delivered to Amberley in early 2013, and this facility is expected to be completed and ready to train air movements and medical staff by early 2014.[31] The RAAF's Globemasters have supported Australian military deployments worldwide. The Air Mobility Control Centre manages the tasking of the Globemasters, and tries to allocate them to missions for which they are the most cost-effective option.[32] As of September 2008, No. 36 Squadron was conducting fortnightly flights to transport supplies from Australia to bases in the Middle East; at this time the supplies were moved into the combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan using C-130 transports.[33] Direct C-17 flights into the major Australian base at Tarin Kot in Afghanistan began in July 2009.[1] As No. 36 Squadron's structure does not enable it to permanently station Globemasters in the Middle East, the usual practice is for one of the type to carry a load of cargo from Australia and then conduct missions in the region for several days before returning to Amberley.[34] In a speech delivered in early 2013, Smith stated that during the previous year the Globemasters had supported operations in the Middle East by flying "60 missions, about 330 hours of flight time, during which the C-17As moved 190 vehicles, 1,800 passengers and over 3,600 tonnes of cargo and conducted 20 aeromedical evacuations".[35] All Australian C-17s that fly into Afghanistan are fitted with a Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures system for protection against missiles.[13]

A41-209 in Afghanistan during December 2010

C-17s have also supported ADF training. In this role they have moved helicopters and other equipment between Australian bases, and supported training deployments to the United States.[33] In April 2010, members of the Australian Army's No. 176 (Air Dispatch) Squadron became the first paratroopers to jump from a non-American Globemaster; the type was first used to support training by the Army's Parachute Training School in June that year.[36][37][38] A C-17 transported an Army M1 Abrams tank for the first time during a training exercise conducted on 11 May 2012.[39] To mark the arrival of the RAAF's final Globemaster, four of the aircraft flew over Brisbane together on 22 November 2012. Each of the C-17s involved in the flight carried a different type of cargo to showcase the type's capabilities; A41-211 was configured for aeromedical evacuation tasks, another C-17 embarked an Abrams tank, one carried two Tiger helicopters and the fourth was loaded with several Bushmasters.[40]

Despite the wide range of tasks which have been assigned to the aircraft, the RAAF is currently not operating its Globemasters in all the roles the type is capable of. In February 2013 the Air Force was reported to be investigating using C-17s to drop special forces boats as well as supplies to warships. The Australian C-17s have also not yet been refuelled while in flight, though it is planned to develop this capability once the flying boom refuelling systems fitted to the RAAF's new KC-30A tanker aircraft become operational.[41]

Humanitarian tasks[]

In addition to their military tasks, the C-17s have formed part of the Australian Government's response to natural disasters. In November 2007 a C-17 delivered 27 tonnes of supplies to Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea following heavy flooding caused by Cyclone Guba. At the conclusion of the ADF response to this disaster, another C-17 mission was conducted to return Army Sikorsky S-70A-9 Black Hawks to their base at Townsville.[33] During May 2008 a C-17 flew 31 tonnes of emergency equipment from Australia to Yangon in Burma following Cyclone Nargis. Later in the month a RAAF Globemaster transported two Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma helicopters from South Africa to Thailand, from where the helicopters flew into Burma.[33] On 1 October 2009, C-17s transported supplies and ADF evacuation teams from RAAF Base Richmond to Samoa following the earthquake there. Two days later another C-17 sortie delivered medical personnel and other specialists to Padang in Indonesia after the Sumatra earthquakes.[42] In August 2010, two C-17s were dispatched to deliver emergency supplies to Pakistan following widespread flooding there.[43]

No. 36 Squadron was particularly active during 2011.[13] In January that year the squadron had to evacuate two C-17s from Amberley to Richmond when the base was threatened by rising floodwaters during the Queensland floods; of the other two Globemasters, one was in the Middle East and the other was undergoing maintenance and could not be flown. The aircraft stranded at Amberley was moved onto high ground during the crisis at the base and escaped without damage.[13][44] The two Richmond-based C-17s subsequently flew over 227 tones of supplies to flood-affected regions of Queensland. When flooding also took place in Victoria during January, No. 36 Squadron transported 100,000 sandbags to Melbourne and flew Royal Australian Navy personnel and vehicles into the state from HMAS Albatross in New South Wales. No. 36 Squadron returned to Amberley after the flood waters dropped in mid-February.[13] In early February the north Queensland city of Cairns was threatened by Cyclone Yasi, and the RAAF conducted two C-17 sorties and two C-130 sorties to evacuate patients from Cairns Base Hospital on the night of 1/2 February.[45][46] After the cyclone passed over the Queensland coast, C-17s flew 200 tonnes of groceries into Cairns over a two-day period as part of Operation Yasi Assist.[45] No. 36 Squadron also contributed aircraft to the Australian response to the 2011 Christchurch earthquake in late February, the C-17s flying urban search and rescue teams into the city from the 23rd of the month and evacuating Australian citizens on their return flights.[45]

Colour photo of a truck with a sign marked with Japanese characters over its cargo compartment driving away from the rear ramp of a grey aircraft at night.

A Japan Ground Self-Defense Force truck driving from A41-208 at Yokota Air Base after being flown from Okinawa

Three of the Australian C-17s were deployed to Japan following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on 11 March. The first aircraft departed Australia two days after the disaster carrying 75 emergency response personnel, most of whom were members of Fire and Rescue NSW. After delivering these personnel to Yokota Air Base, the C-17 remained in Japan to provide additional airlift to the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF).[45] In this role, the C-17 moved elements of the Japanese 15th Brigade from Okinawa to Honshu, and also transported supplies from a JSDF base in Hokkaido.[47] On 21/22 March, two other C-17s (including one temporarily brought back from the Middle East) flew a large water cannon system from RAAF Base Pearce in Western Australia to Yokota; owned by the Bechtel corporation, the water cannon formed part of the efforts to bring the badly damaged Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant under control.[45] With the arrival of these aircraft, all three of the available Australian C-17s were in Japan (the fourth was still undergoing maintenance at Amberley).[13] The RAAF maintained a C-17, two flight crews and support personnel in Japan until 25 March.[13][47] By the end of this deployment the Australian aircraft had conduced 31 sorties and delivered 450 tonnes of cargo.[48] No. 36 Squadron maintained a C-17 in the Middle East over most of this period.[48] Also in March 2011, Smith stated that the Australian Government would probably provide C-17s to transport humanitarian supplies to Libya if the United Nations requested assistance.[49]

The RAAF's C-17s responded to several other natural disasters between late 2011 and 2013. In October 2011 a Globemaster flew a water purification plant to Samoa, from where it was transported by Royal New Zealand Air Force aircraft to Tuvalu.[13] C-17s also transported supplies to Fiji and Samoa in December 2012 following Cyclone Evan.[50] In January 2013 two Globemasters flew power generators and transformers from Amberley to Hobart following the Tasmanian bushfires.[51] Later that month C-17s were used to transport aviation fuel and other supplies into the Queensland town of Bundaberg after it was affected by heavy flooding.[35]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Pittaway (2012), p. 21
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Thomson (2007), p. 184
  3. Pittaway (2012), pp. 20–21
  4. "Australia's National Security: Defence Update 2005". Media release. Department of Defence. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Thomson (2006), p. 2
  6. McLaughlin (2008), pp. 41–42
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 McLaughlin (2008), p. 42
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Air Force's C-17 Fleet Complete – On Time, On Budget". Media release. Department of Defence. 9 March 2008. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  9. Smith, Phil (14 December 2006). "The master has arrived". Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  10. ANAO (2012), p. 327
  11. ANAO (2012), p. 331
  12. Thomson (2008), pp. 162–163
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 13.8 13.9 Pittaway (2012), p. 22
  14. "Fifth RAAF C-17 flies". 29 August 2011. Retrieved 13 July 2013. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 McLaughlin (2011), p. 21
  16. "Sixth C-17 touches down". Australian Aviation. 8 November 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  17. "RAAF signs for C-17 support, as fears grow for the production line". 1 October 2006. Retrieved 8 April 2013. 
  18. "Boeing delivers sixth C-17". 2 November 2012. Retrieved 8 April 2013. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Thomson (2007), p. 185
  20. 20.0 20.1 McPhedran (2011), pp. 228–231
  21. Pittaway (2012), pp. 19–20
  22. 22.0 22.1 "C-17A Globemaster Description and Specifications". Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved 6 April 2013. 
  23. McPhedran (2011), pp. 271–272
  24. Pittaway (2012), p. 19
  25. O'Brien (2009), p. 214
  26. Rollings, Barry (16 October 2008). "AME role confirmed". p. 3. Retrieved 14 July 2013. 
  27. Bedo, Stephanie (9 December 2008). "Misses master a RAAF monster". Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  28. "RAAF C-17 pilot training begins in Australia". 8 February 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  29. "First Australian trained C-17 pilots graduate". 3 June 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  30. ANAO (2012), p. 323
  31. Perks, Michelle (1 August 2013). "C-17 trainer nears completion". p. 9. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  32. Hamilton, Eamon (2 August 2012). "Finding right fit for job". Retrieved 6 April 2013. 
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 33.3 McLaughlin (2008), p. 45
  34. McPhedran (2011), p. 272
  35. 35.0 35.1 "Speech – Opening of the Avalon Airshow". Media release. The Hon. Stephen Smith MP. 26 February 2013. Retrieved 24 March 2013. 
  36. "Paratroops get the jump on C-17A". Image Gallery: April 2010. Department of Defence. 22 April 2010. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  37. "Australian paratroopers jump into history". Feature Story. Boeing. 20 September 2010. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  38. "Parachute Training School first jump from a RAAF Globemaster". Image Gallery: June 2010. Department of Defence. 11 June 2010. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  39. "First flight for ADF Abrams". 14 May 2012. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  40. Hamilton, Eamon (6 December 2012). "Sixth C-17A's big impact". p. 2. Retrieved 14 July 2013. 
  41. Waldron, Greg (19 February 2013). "Australian airlift comes of age". Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  42. "RAAF responds to regional disasters". 6 October 2009. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  43. "RAAF aircraft to help relief efforts in Pakistan". 11 August 2010. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  44. Hamilton (2011), p. 20
  45. 45.0 45.1 45.2 45.3 45.4 Hamilton (2011), p. 21
  46. "Defence Responds to Tropical Cyclone Yasi". Media release. Department of Defence. 2 February 2011. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  47. 47.0 47.1 Oldaker, Aaron; Hamilton, Eamon (31 March 2011). "Answering Call from Japan". pp. 2–3. Retrieved 19 January 2013. 
  48. 48.0 48.1 Hamilton (2011), p. 22
  49. Thompson, Jeremy (10 March 2011). "Smith flags humanitarian role in Libya". Retrieved 24 March 2013. 
  50. "Humanitarian Support". Royal Australian Air Force. Retrieved 24 March 2013. 
  51. "ADF providing assistance to Tasmanian bushfire victims". Media release. The Hon. Warren Snowdon MP. 11 January 2013. Retrieved 24 March 2013. 
Works consulted

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).