June 18, 2007:
After several years of negotiation,
and a reality check brought on by the needs of war, the U.S. Army and Air Force
have agreed on using the Italian C-27J tow engine transport, to replace the
elderly C-23s, and thus provide more small transports for delivering cargos in
places even C-130s can't reach. The C-27J (a joint U.S./Italian upgrade of the
Italian G-222) is as 28 ton aircraft can carry nine tons for up to 2,500
kilometers and land on smaller airfields than the C-130 can handle. The U.S.
Air Force bought ten C-27Js in the 1990s, but took them out of service because
it was cheaper to deliver stuff via the larger C-130. However, the C-27J is a favorite with many other air forces, and
draws on technology from the C-130J program
(using the same engines, propellers and electronic items). The C-27Js
will cost about $30 million each, and much of the work will be done in the United
States, although the aircraft will be assembled in Italy.
Two years ago, the U.S. Army and Air Force agreed
to replace the C-23 two engine transports the U.S. Army National Guard
operates, with 145 new aircraft of approximately the same capability. The air
force would get about half these aircraft, and the army the rest. But both
services would establish joint maintenance and support facilities, in order to
keep the costs down. The current plan calls for as many as 207 C-27Js over the
next ten years.
According to half a century of agreements and
Pentagon turf battles, the army should not be able to operate two engine
transports. But because of a special deal, forced on the military by Congress,
the Army National Guard is allowed to operate 44 two engine C-23s (a freight version of the British
Shorts 330 passenger airliner). The 12 ton C-23 can carry up to 3.5 tons of
cargo, or up to 30 troops. But the C-23s are twenty years old, and efforts to
get a replacement, especially a larger and more numerous replacement, initially
ran into air force opposition. After all, the air force has 500, 75 ton,
C-130s. But in Iraq, the army C-23s have proved invaluable in getting priority
army cargos where they are needed, often to places the C-130 could not reach.
With a war going on, the army has lots of recent evidence of how difficult it
is for army commanders to get a C-130 for some urgent mission. The army
originally asked for 128 C-23 replacements, but the air force protested, and
the current deal was worked out.
There were several aircraft competing for this
contract, including the CN-235, C-295 and C-27J, along with the current the
navy C-2. What all these aircraft had in common was greater capacity (about
half the C-130s 20 ton load), and the ability to fly higher than the C-23s
20,000 foot maximum altitude (which prevents it from being used in
Afghanistan). Now the air force will not only operate these two engine
transports, but will tolerate the army owning about sixty of them as well. All
because there's a war going on, and wars are great for quickly settling
peacetime squabbles that seem to never end.