India’s Order Extends Boeing’s C-17 Production

Boeing (BA) is facing the end of production for the C-17 strategic transport as the United States decided to not buy anymore of the aircraft despite its heavy use in supporting the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the last few years Congress had increased the total number of aircraft being bought for the U.S. Air Force despite its and the Defense Department requests to stop procurement.

The C-17 has seen sales to overseas customers with Australia, the United Kingdom and some Gulf States purchasing the system. Even so Boeing could see the end of production and had begun to shut down its production line in Long Beach, CA. This facility gained when McDonnell-Douglas merged with Boeing in the Nineties was destined to close when the C-17 was finished as Boeing had no other work for it.

The company and its workers received good news today as it was announced that India had agreed to sign a contract for ten of the aircraft. Not only is the deal worth over $4 billion it will keep the production line open for one more year. This buys even more time for Boeing to find other customers for the aircraft or even convince the U.S. to procure more.

India has in the last few years turned to Western defense contractors for different systems including buying the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft from Boeing in two recent contracts. This is in a bid to upgrade their capabilities beyond what their domestic suppliers and the more traditional Russian and UK companies have been providing.

India currently has a new fighter in competition but recently down selected to just two offerings – France’s Rafael and Eurofighter’s Typhoon. The two American bidders along with MiG and SAAB did not make it through to the final round of the contest. Some saw this as a deliberate snub of America possibly related to policy towards Pakistan and the potentiality that if there was a conflict between India and its neighbor the U.S. might boycott of supplying either nation.

Boeing, though, may get a trifecta of contracts as India is still considering the AH-64 Apache as a contender for a new attack helicopter. The Defense Department has notified Congress of a potential $1.4 billion worth of helicopters, support and training.

India remains a market of great potential for the U.S. defense contractors as they face the possibility of cuts to the U.S. budget and the end of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan with all the potential for reduced revenue and earnings. So far deals with India have been few-and-far between but today’s contract announcement is a step in the right direction.

Photo from kingair42’s Flickr photostream.

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