Boeing [BA] this week announced a deal with Qatar for the purchase of the C-17 Globemaster III airlifter for the country’s armed forces, marking the first sale of the aircraft to a Middle Eastern country.

The C-17 is currently in service with the U.S. Air Force, the U.K. Royal Air Force, Canadian Forces and the Royal Australian Air Force. According to a July 11 Pentagon statement, Qatar will purchase two C-17s and related services for about $400 million. Boeing plans to begin delivery next summer.

“We’re aggressively marketing the product internationally,” Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling told sister publication Defense Daily.

“But we really need more orders from the Air Force,” he added. “We can’t rely on international sales alone to sustain the line.”

The U.S. Air Force’s 175th C-17 aircraft will be delivered on Friday, according to Drelling. Boeing is under contract to deliver and support 190 C-17s for the service. Some $3.6 billion in supplemental defense spending this year will soon bring that number to 205–an order that will be just enough to sustain the production line through the fall of 2010.

“We produce 15 C-17s per year,” Drelling explained.

He added that several other countries have expressed interest in purchasing the aircraft. NATO is also organizing an effort to procure at least two C-17s (Defense Daily, July 21).

There are currently 189 of the aircraft in service worldwide. The United States has 175; the United Kingdom has six; and Canada and Australia each have four.

During congressional budget hearings earlier this year, then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley told lawmakers that the emergence of the Pentagon’s new Africa Command has increased demand for C-17s and is one of the reasons more of the airlifters are desired now (Defense Daily, March 10).

AFRICOM Commander Army Gen. William Ward said last month that heavy lift is at the top of his equipment priorities (Defense Daily, June 27).

Vice Adm. Robert Moeller, the command’s deputy chief for military operations, has said that the Pentagon is closely examining air logistics-support needs for AFRICOM (Defense Daily, May 28).