JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Maryland — The Air Force projects its muscle through fighter jets, bombers and drones. But without tankers, those aircraft are short on flight time. And without airlift support, the pilots, crew and maintenance units needed to keep them flying stay stateside.

That connection is what Air Mobility Commander Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II wants lawmakers to remember. And it’s why the service is working to upgrade its C-5 Galaxy fleet and keep its C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in key condition.

“Just a few years ago, we had 112 C-5s. Today, we have 56,” Everhart told congressional staffers during a demonstration day here March 31. The presentation included a tour a C-5, plus two C-17s and a C-130 Hercules.

Sequestration resulted “in moving eight C-5s into backup aircraft inventory … which means we still have the aircraft but lost all manning and funding to operate them,” he said.

Now Everhart wants them back, and he’s making it his top priority.

“I need them back because there’s real world things that we’ve got to move, and they give me that … added assurance capability,” he said.

“Those eight C-5Ms? I was going to buy them back within a two-year period,” Everhart said. With budget caps in place and without an appropriations bill, “that’s been delayed twice … in two budget cycles.”

AMC hopes to make up for lost time in part by upgrading the largest airlifter in the Air Force’s inventory. The C-5, made by Lockheed Martin Corp., is undergoing a modernization program that includes upgrading the avionics “to improve communications, navigation and surveillance/air traffic management compliance as well as adding new safety equipment and installing a new autopilot system,” according to a release.

The modernization also involves “modifying C-5A/B/Cs into the C-5M Super Galaxy by upgrading to the F-138 commercial engine,” the release said. The engine delivers more than a 20-percent “increase in thrust, a 30-percent shorter takeoff roll, a 58-percent faster climb rate and will allow significantly more cargo to be carried over longer distances.”

The Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program program, which began in 2008, is scheduled to be completed in 2018, officials said Friday. That means 52 C-5s — one “A” variant, 49 “B” variants, and two “C” variants — are scheduled to receive the RERP modification.

Everhart said that a C-5M recently aircraft flew from Travis Air Force Base, California, to Yokota, Japan, a major feat for the 247-foot-long airlifter, which can take off at a max weight of 840,000 pounds. Normally, it would stop in Hawaii. But it kept going.

“It’s the only airlifter in the inventory that can make the flight non-stop, which means we can put the American flag on the ground in hours versus days,” Everhart said.

An average C-5 flight is roughly eight to 10 hours, said Capt. Robert Drye. A third of the fleet is cycling through maintenance at any given time, the pilot said.

Re-engining the C-5M gets crews “so much farther, faster,” he added.

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