|Air 8000 Background:
Phase 2 is intended to replace the RAAF DHC 4 Caribou transport aircraft to provide a light tactical fixed wing airlift capability.
Phase 2 is intended to enhance the ADF’s intra-theatre and regional airlift capability. This capability will focus on the provision of an intra-theatre airlift solution with some inter-theatre application. This capability will be able to operate from a wide range of rudimentary airstrips with useful payload, range and in-theatre survivability. Phase 2 may also provide appropriate training support, which could include the provision of a Full Flight Simulator. Notably, the capability will require careful consideration of the interaction between rotary-wing assets and light / medium fixed wing platforms in the tactical environment and the total airlift fleet mix.
For Phase 2 it is anticipated that a Military-off-the-Shelf (MOTS) light tactical fixed wing airlift capability will be sourced from an original equipment manufacturer or through government-to-government (Foreign Military Sales) arrangements with few Australian industry opportunities.
The light tactical fixed-wing platform to replace the ‘Caribou’ was considered almost exclusively in terms of a competition between the EADS C-295M & the L-3 Communications/Alenia North America C-27J.Some have suggested the specifications generally favour the C-27J, and especially so if common logistics and through life support savings related to growing the C-130J fleet to 14 units are taken into account (ADBR). The C-27J offers interoperability with both CH/MH-47s and larger, intra-theatre lift aircraft such as the C-130s aircraft and incorporates the same propulsion system and advanced avionics as the C-130J Hercules (). ADBR (Dec 2010) suggests a scaled back Land 17 acquisition opens up a space for C-27J gunships.
“New funding to launch a gunship variant of the L-3 Communications/Alenia C-27J Spartan joint cargo aircraft (JCA) is now being finalized in the US military's budgeting process, L-3 confirms. The AC-27J would serve as a complementary asset for the Air Force Special Operations Command's existing fleet of heavier AC-130 gunships. A formal requirements document is being developed and "funding profiles are also being finalized and being worked through the acquisition process", L-3 says (flightglobal.com).
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Alenia are reportedly seeking to integrate BAE Systems’ (BAES) M777 lightweight howitzer into the C-27J airframe, as part of a replacement program for existing US units in the form of AC-130H ‘Spectre’ and AC-130U ‘Spooky’ units (ADBR).
Over recent years ADF deployments into situations of armed conflict short of conventional war have been frequent and numerous: Cambodia, Namibia, Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, Somalia, Rwanda, East Timor, Solomon Islands, southern Iraq and Afghanistan therefore it is highly plausible that the ADF will be called upon to conduct complex counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism or other low/medium intensity peacemaking operations across our region within the next 10 years (2009 WP).
Light forces will often require support to ensure their protection and the completion of their tasking without interference from an adversary. Covering forces may require positioning within reach of the units needing protection, but cover may also be exercised effectively through the simple threat of intervention. This is particularly applicable to situations in which it is desirable to contain the intensity or extent of a conflict. Adequate air-cover can provide deterrence against would-be adversaries and thus reduce the likelihood of escalation (RAN- maritime operations). Amphibious Ready/Task groups (including the LHD & Sea based Air Support) are likely to require significant time to prepare themselves, crises in the Pacific and South-East Asia often develop quickly with little or no warning. In such situations ADF Special Forces and light infantry may be outnumbered and be required to face adversaries with greater firepower. In such scenarios effective air-cover/fire support can be the force multiplier that saves lives.
Defence White Paper decisions in regard to new 155mm artillery, heavy lift helicopters and light tactical fixed-wing are providing the ADF the opportunity to consider shifting emphasis from roadside bombs and IED-hazardous land operations, towards air mobile operations. The introduction of new air platforms brings with it opportunities for additional new military capabilities, including gunships (ADBR).
To show the effectiveness of gunships in counter – insurgency compared to conventional attack aircraft, one only has to look at the number of truck kills per sortie of the AC-130 during the later years of the Vietnam War AC–130s killed or damaged 8.3 trucks per sortie compared to fighter-bombers, which averaged 0.29 trucks killed or dam