Air Transportation: USAF and U.S. Army Fly Away Together


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.




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