The U.S. Air Force is not expecting to get any more money to build additional heavy (C-17 and C-5 class) transport aircraft. No more than 205 C-17s will be built for the air force, in addition to 46 C-5s that will be refurbished and equipped with more powerful and efficient engines. This will provide a fleet of 251 heavy lifters. The air force has been trying to get at least 300 of these large transports. Instead, they will rely more on leasing civilian aircraft. This is done via CRAF (Civil Reserve Air Fleet). In 2003, for the first time since the 1990-91 Gulf War, the United States mobilized CRAF. Twenty-two airlines were ordered to make available 78 commercial aircraft (47 passenger aircraft and 31 wide-body freighters.)
CRAF was set up in 1951, and used for the first time in 1990. At the time, the air force was paying some $700 million a year to 32 airlines so that, if a national emergency was declared, the air force could call into military service transports with a minimum of fuss and paperwork. The program has continued since then. Aircraft can also volunteer their aircraft for military service, which is easier to do right now because of the depressed state of the air transport business. During the Gulf War, airlines that had their aircraft mobilized earned $1.5 billion in use fees. The CRAF transports moved 62 percent of the troops brought in by air to the Persian Gulf, and 27 percent of the air freight.
CRAF has worked so well that it took away a lot of the incentive, and Congressional support, to build more C-17s.