Worldwide Reach: Robins C-17 program office has global ties, impact

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
With the recent announcement of the sale of four C-17 Globemaster III aircraft to Qatar, an expected chapter will soon close as Boeing prepares to shutter production this September. 

While the C-17 will no longer be produced on assembly lines, modernization, sustainment and maintenance of the Air Force's fleet will continue for decades at Robins Air Force Base and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

The C-17 System Program Office at Robins - which includes Boeing employees and representatives from partner nations and personnel located at Wright-Patterson - is responsible for sustainment, modernization, modification, maintenance and overall service of the C-17 fleet.

Partner nation representatives include numerous foreign liaison officers.
Including Qatar, which acquired its first C-17 in 2009, these FLOs who work in the C-17 SPO represent the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and the NATO Airlift Management Program.

"Our focus has transitioned from one of acquisition of C-17s to sustainment for our international partners," said Dusty Dodd, C-17 International Branch chief here. "The program office sustaining the C-17 virtual fleet is critical to maintaining mission-capable rates alongside the Air Force's C-17 fleet."            

While the recent Qatar sale - which will double the existing fleet - was the result of a direct commercial sale contract between the Qatar government and Boeing, there are still military items and equipment that cannot be procured as part of that process, and must be executed through Robins.

"Any time a country buys an aircraft through a DCS contract, we have an associated Foreign Military Sale case to buy that equipment," said Dodd.

A total of $9.5 billion is executed from the Robins FMS office.

Working side by side with a team of 100 Air Force and contractor personnel in the C-17 SPO, 24 FLOs are located onsite.

The FLOs represent five partner nations that include the UK, Canada, the NATO Airlift Management Program and Australia. A fifth FLO from Qatar is located at Wright-Patterson and will transition to Robins later this year.

It's agreed there are many benefits associated with having a team of military and civilian FLOs, who have an average three-year rotation at Robins. 

The primary benefit is more effective and timely communication. FLOs are able to
actively engage with program managers, engineers and Boeing personnel. For instance, deficiency reporting and material improvement projects that impact the fleet can be quickly reviewed by FLOs, and as needed incorporated into their country's fleets.

FLOs are also able to participate in the program office's Crisis Management Team, which gives real-time information on fleet-wide issues that can be communicated to country program offices, as well as various weapon system working groups.

Also, a team of senior FLO commanders are given authority and responsibility from their countries to quickly make decisions on C-17 sustainment and repairs.

Wing Commander Tim Ewbank of the Royal Air Force is one of eight on staff who serves as a senior FLO from the United Kingdom. He has been at Robins since 2013, transferring from Wright-Patterson.

The U.K. was the first international partner to procure C-17s in 2001.

"One huge benefit in terms of interoperability is that our team would probably be much larger if we were in the U.K.," said Ewbank. "We also have more insight into what's going on with the platform, and by being here it saves us a lot of money."

"The C-17 gives our country incredible strategic cargo airlift capability. It has more range and it's faster," he said. "It really proved its worth during Afghanistan when we worked it really hard for resupply. It also played a pivotal role in evacuating wounded warriors back to the U.K."

It's also great for defense diplomacy, enabling the U.K. to be at the forefront of the international effort during natural disasters, according to Ewbank.

Dodd added, "It makes the coordination of activities much more efficient. For our partners where we don't have FLOs in our office, coordination across the globe and time zones can be difficult when communicating issues or making real-time decisions impacting the fleet."

The Air Force received its final C-17 in the fall of 2013. The last lot of 10 C-17s will complete production in September. Nine have been sold to Qatar, Canada, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. One final aircraft remains to be sold.

While the focus will be on fleet sustainment, to include modernization and modification, a recent example of those efforts included incorporating the Fixed Installation Satellite Antennae program on two of Australia's C-17s. The move will give the aircraft internet capabilities to enhance communications and situational awareness.

Since the C-17s initial operational capability was declared in 1995, the fleet has accumulated 3 million flying hours this past May, and has supported military operations, exercises, patient transport and worldwide humanitarian relief. 

Robins is not only home to the C-17 SPO, but also the 562nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, whose 625 personnel are responsible for the heavy maintenance and overhaul of the aircraft.


The reliability and maintainability of the C-17 fleet make it an outstanding benefit for humanitarian aircraft missions across the globe.

At Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina, 315th Airlift Wing Airmen are no strangers to humanitarian efforts.

Earlier this month, reservists from the 317th Airlift Squadron delivered aid to residents in Haiti, and for the first time to the island nations of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

The aid was delivered as part of scheduled training flights in partnership with U.S. Aid's  Denton Program - a program which allows private U.S. citizens and organizations to use space available military cargo planes to transport humanitarian goods to countries in need.

"This exercise is a continuation of a long history of humanitarian missions that fly out of Joint Base Charleston," said Capt. John Williams, 317th AS C-17 Globemaster III pilot and mission aircraft commander. "To be able to partner with the Denton Program to enrich the lives of our neighbors is a very rewarding job."

A total of 345,000 pounds of humanitarian cargo was delivered to Haiti this past April onboard a C-17, which included more than 65,000 pounds of food.

Editor's note: The 315th Airlift Wing contributed to this article.