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Soldier Armed

C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft

By Scott R. Gourley

Recent experiences in overseas combat operations have demonstrated that America needs an improved capability for medium airlift inside combat theaters and in support of the global war on terrorism. U.S. warfighters will soon experience that improved intratheater airlift capability through the recently awarded Joint cargo aircraft (JCA) program.

JCA began as an “Army-only” future cargo aircraft (FCA) studies program in the late 1990s. According to Army planners, the resulting “F-series” studies recognized a gap in the ability to meet U.S. Army direct-support requirements for time-sensitive, mission-critical cargo and passenger delivery to service elements. Meanwhile, the U.S. Air Force was also exploring its own capabilities in a similar tactical arena under a program called the light cargo aircraft (LCA).

After a Joint requirements oversight council approved an initial capabilities document (and validated the requirements to fill the operational gap) in March 2005, a December 2005 program decision memorandum directed the merging of the Army FCA and the Air Force LCA programs into a single Joint service JCA program, with acquisition responsibilities placed under a Joint program office. In June 2006, the Army Vice Chief of Staff and the Air Force Vice Chief of Staff signed a JCA memorandum of agreement, and in October of that year the JCA Joint Program Office (JPO) stood up at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Ala.

In their March 2007 testimony before the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, Lt. Gen. John M. Curran, who was deputy commanding general, Futures and director, U.S. Army Capabilities Integration Center, and Maj. Gen.(P) Jeffrey A. Sorenson, who was then the deputy for Acquisition and Systems Management, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, focused on the cooperative progress made by the JPO and the continuing need to fill the intratheater lift gap.

“In light of the great progress and successes we have made with respect to the Joint program, it is appropriate for the JPO to execute the appropriated funding in support of the JCA acquisition strategy as approved by [the Undersecretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics)]. … The global war on terrorism has only confirmed our need for this capability as we have attempted to fill this gap with a marginal solution using an inadequate platform, the C-23 Sherpa, and an inappropriate use of the CH-47 Chinook,” their combined statement read.

Following a competitive acquisition process, the JCA contract was awarded in mid-June 2007 to an industry team that included L-3 Communications’ Integrated Systems (L-3/IS) Group, Alenia North America (a Finmeccanica company), Boeing Integrated Defense Systems and Global Military Aircraft Systems. According to Alison Hartley, senior vice president of Business Development with L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, the first two aircraft are on order for delivery in September and November 2008.

The team had offered the C-27J Spartan for their JCA solution, broadly characterizing the platform as “a multimission cargo aircraft that will fill the current capability gap in Joint aerial delivery based on its ability to transport critical cargo and personnel, self-deploy over strategic distances, land in austere locations, operate autonomously and provide routine and combat aerial sustainment to the Joint force.”

Furthermore, according to the Joint statement, “The C-27J will replace the U.S. Army’s C-23 Sherpas, C-26 and various C-12 aircraft, and will augment the U.S. Air Force’s existing fleet of intratheater airlifters. The aircraft will play a key role in providing responsive aerial sustainment, critical resupply, medevac, troop transport, airdrop operations, humanitarian assistance and missions in support of homeland security.”

With a wingspan of 94.16 feet and a nose-to-tail length of 74.48 feet, the twin-engine C-27Js have a range of 1,000 nautical miles with 22,046 pounds of payload; 2,300 nautical miles with 13,227 pounds of payload; and a 3,200 nautical mile ferry range (no payload).

Configurations and loads include: 68 troops plus two loadmasters as troop transport; 46 jumpers plus two loadmasters as paratroop transport; 36 stretchers plus six medical attendants as medevac transport; and cargo transport up to 25,353 pounds (maximum 19,842 pounds for low velocity air drop and 11,200 pounds for low altitude parachute extraction).

Previous U.S. Department of Defense experience with the C-27 family includes the acquisition of 10 C-27As, procured as G222s in the early 1990s and modified to C-27A configuration for delivery to the U.S. Air Force. The aircraft were subsequently based at Howard Air Force Base in Panama and provided forward operating base support for U.S. Southern Command.

With the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Panama, the “Alphas” were later retired with some of the platforms currently serving the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.

The JCA team is quick to characterize the C-27J models as “the newest generation of military airlifter in the world,” highlighting modern enhancements including the landing gear (significantly more substantial than the C-27A); Rolls Royce AE2100 D2 engines (the same family used on the new C-130J); avionics (based on the C-130J); and structure (“based on the C-27A with significant structural enhancement to increase its payload capacity and ruggedness”).

In announcing the receipt of the JCA contract in June, L-3 Communications identified a baseline contract estimated at $2.04 billion over the life of the program to supply a minimum of 78 C-27J JCAs to the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.

Nine days later, following a postselection debrief by the U.S. Army, the award was protested to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) by a competing industry partnership, which announced its belief that “crucial portions of [its] proposal … were either incorrectly measured or not considered during the source selection process.” In September, the GAO announced that the protest was denied and upheld the JCA contract award decision.

“We were very pleased with these developments, which affirm our confidence that the C-27J is the best-value solution for the government,” said Michael T. Strianese, president and chief executive officer of L-3 Communications, about the GAO decision.

Robert W. Drewes, president of L-3’s Integrated Systems Group, added, “We are anxious to get started so that we can promptly deliver this capability to our warfighters.”

“JCA is critical to meeting the force’s readiness challenges today,” Hartley added. “The ruggedness, survivability and flexibility of the C-27J JCA provide our Joint services the highest degree of tactical utility necessary to support deployed soldiers going the last tactical mile. The superior performance and maneuverability of this platform translate directly into greater survivability in a hostile environment; our warfighters deserve nothing less.”