WASHINGTON – Top Air Force brass blamed Congress on Wednesday for the Pentagon’s decision to stop production of the Long Beach C-17 cargo carrier. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley said a 2004 defense bill prohibiting the service from retiring an aging fleet of C-5 cargo planes tied up money that might otherwise go toward buying C-17s. “We can’t get rid of the C-5s because of the legislation that freezes us on divestiture, so we’re there with 112 airplanes,” Moseley told lawmakers. The ability to retire some of the planes, he said, would “change the equation” for C-17s. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant “We are burning the C-17s up at a higher rate because they have proven to be gold,” Moseley said. “The C-17 is a much more valuable asset than the C-5A.” Added Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne of the C-5s: “We can’t seem to get them out the back door so we can get more in the front door.” The hearing marked the first major inquiry into the Pentagon’s decision to eliminate the C-17s once the current contract for 180 planes runs out in 2008. Lawmakers said they were befuddled by the decision, particularly given a wish-list the Air Force released this week, naming the purchase of seven C-17s as the item it most wants but can least afford. “Why is the Air Force not funding all the C-17s it thinks it needs? We should have an answer to that,” said Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the panel’s leading Democrat. “Is it 180, or do we need more than 180?” asked Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J. Several lawmakers appeared receptive to modifying the restriction against retiring C-5s and Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon said he plans to organize an informal breakfast discussion between lawmakers and Air Force officials to discuss it further. But Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, whose district includes Travis Air Force Base where 13 C-17s are expected in June, said she thinks the Air Force is overplaying the problems caused by not being able to retire C-5s. “That’s their justification. It’s related, but it’s not the direct reason,” Tauscher said, charging that the tax cuts and the missile defense program are eating far more resources. The colossal Lockheed-Georgia C-5 Galaxy is one of the largest planes in the world, able to carry 135 tons of cargo. Just this week, according to a New Delhi newspaper, it was used to carry President George W. Bush’s bulletproof limousine and an ambulance to India. The 2004 Defense Authorization prohibits the Air Force from going below 112 C-5s, essentially blocking them from retiring any of the older C-5As. “The C-5s are viable for many years to come and are the most cost-effective way for keeping the strategic lift requirements that the Air Force has,” said Peter Simmons, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin in Georgia. House Armed Services Chairman Duncan Hunter said he is concerned about the fate of C-17s, but avoided committing Congress to finding the money. “Dollars are a constraining factor, and we’re concerned about that,” he said. Lisa Friedman, (202) 662-8731 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!