Air Transportation: C-27Js Lost In Iraq


May 4, 2009: The U.S. Army has ordered another seven Italian designed C-27J two engine transports, at a cost of $29 million each. Last Fall, the U.S. Air Force and Army received the first of 78 C-27Js. These two aircraft are being readied for service by army crews. So far, the army has ordered 13, but now the Department of Defense is talking about cutting the total authorized in half, and having the air force operate all of them,  in the name of saving money. The army is fighting this.

The current deal has the two services  operating these transports jointly. The C-27J replaces elderly C-23s, and thus provide more small transports for delivering cargo in tight spaces. The C-27J (a joint U.S./Italian upgrade of the Italian G-222) is as 28 ton aircraft that can carry nine tons for up to 2,500 kilometers and land on smaller airfields than the C-130. The U.S. Air Force bought ten C-27As 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 army and air force worked fast on this deal, coming to an agreement on the C-27J less than two years ago. Three 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. The first one was delivered on time and on budget. The air force is taking its ten older C-27s and using them to experiment with more new uses (like as a gunship).

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 cargoes where they are needed, often to places the C-130 could not land. 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. 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. But now there is talk of unwinding the deal, because the Iraq war is won, and the money is needed back home.


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