In a document titled "USAF Force Structure Changes: Sustaining Readiness and Modernizing the Total Force," released by the US Air Force in February 2012, the service reiterated its plans to divest the C-27J fleet entirely. This was planned to be completed by FY13. The stated reason for the retirement of the aircraft was in order to achieve savings by substituting the lower life cycle costs of the more capable C-130 for the niche C-27J capability. This followed the switch in control of the program from US Army to USAF leadership and previous scaling back of the size of C-27J purchases. The complete history of the C-27J in the end was extremely similar to that of US Army-USAF battle over the CV-2/C-7 Caribou, and the associated decisions made concerning the USAF's C-123 fleet, more than 40 years prior.
The C-27J Spartan, an upgraded version of the Alenia G.222, was developed by Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems (LMATTS), a US company jointly owned by Lockheed Martin and Alenia. The C-27J had a ferry range that was described by the manufacturers as exceeding any competitive aircraft by 1,000nm, for a total ferry range of more than 3,000nm. In weight, it carried 50 percent more than similar aircraft, and could carry a maximum payload 1,000 miles. The aircraft, which was not a modified commuter airliner, but a dedicated military transport, was strong enough to perform sustained 3-g maneuvers and can takeoff and land from short, unprepared surfaces in less than 500 meters, even with a maximum takeoff weight of 30,000 kg (66,000 pounds).
Other features of the Spartan, particularly its in-flight-operable auxiliary power unit, fueling, and loadability further helped it to operate in austere conditions. Single point fueling and access to the upper surface of the wing facilitates gravity refueling. Loading and unloading could be easily accomplished without ground support equipment and the unique ability to vary floor height and attitude allows gives ground vehicles direct access to the cargo hold.
The C-27J's carrying capacity was also described as unmatched in its class. It had large cargo compartment dimensions 2.25m high, 3.33m wide (more than seven feet high and nearly 11 feet wide) along with high floor strength (4,900kg/m). Jet engines for the F-16, Mirage 2000, Eurofighter and other aircraft such as the C-130 could be transported on their own stands without special equipment. Certain ground vehicles, including the wide HMMWV ("Hummer") could be carried without alteration.
The Spartan could be used to perform paradrop operations easily and safely. It was equipped with two full-size side doors, allowing two paratroops to depart the aircraft every second, lowering the dispersion radius for the soldiers to a far smaller area than other aircraft can offer. Crews could conduct either 5,000kg (11,000 pounds) low-altitude parachute extraction system (LAPES) drops or 5,000kg high-altitude, low-opening paradrops in a single pass.
The Spartan could remain on-station up to nine hours 200nm from its base, an important capability for search and rescue and maritime patrol operations. It could speed to the search area at 310 knots, then cover a large search area with its long endurance. The AN/APN-241 search radar and the night vision goggle compatible cockpit would help the crew locate small targets at long ranges and give an unmatched accurate, day-night, all-weather material airdrop capability.
The C-27J Spartan, a twin engine military transporter, represents a new generation military airlifter. Alenia Aeronautics and Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems, both world leaders in airlift aviation, combined resources and capabilities to produce the advanced C-27J for mission success.
The C-27J was described by the manufacturers as a valuable addition to any nation's airlifter fleet due to its incredible versatility. It offered the excellent structural and handling characteristics of the Alenia's C-27A/G222 aircraft, combined with the new C-130J propulsion and avionics system. The airframe of the C-27J was conceived and developed from the beginning for the military transport role, with an eye towards mission role expansion and flexibility using palletized mission systems. The baseline C-27J aircraft could perform a basic level of maritime surveillance and search and rescue operations, as well as logistics transport. In addition, the C-27J could perform a wide range of additional missions in support of Homeland security including medical evacuation, paratroop missions, firefighting, aerial spraying, etc. The C-27J offered the best performance both in logistic and tactical operations.
The C-27J systems were designed and developed to take maximum advantage of the C-130J development program, particularly in the propulsion and avionics systems. Approximately 30% of avionics and propulsion system LRUs were common between the C-27J and C-130J. The avionics system architecture design was 100% common.
Many potential customers in Europe, South America, and Asia were already evaluating the aircraft prior to Joint Cargo Aircraft competition. The Italian Air Force announced on 11 November 1998 its decision to buy 12 C-27J Spartan tactical transport aircraft to replace its fleet of G.222 transports. In doing so, the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI) became the first customer to announce its intention to procure the C-27J. C-27J deliveries to the AMI began in 2001 and conclude in 2004, with continued logistics support for the aircraft supplied by LMATTS. The Italian Air Force G.222 fleet would be gradually reduced and retired as the Spartans were introduced to service.
The first C-27J Spartan series aircraft to be delivered to the Hellenic Air Force, successfully achieved its first flight in Caselle on 15 December 2004, after the final integration at Alenia Aeronautica's plants of Turin-Caselle. After take-off at 10:00 AM from the Alenia Aeronautica's flight test field, piloted by Commanders Agostino Frediani and Gianluca Evangelisti (also on-board was the third test pilot, Commander Mario Mutti), the C-27J performed some maneuvers and flight figures for a total of 83 minutes. The success of the first flight of the Hellenic Air Force aircraft enabled the Italian company to respect contractual time schedule, which envisages delivery by end of January 2005.
The C-27J, manufactured by Alenia Aeronautica and Lockheed Martin, was the most advanced tactical transport aircraft and had already been ordered by the Italian and Hellenic Air Forces (12 units each). A range of potential American, European and Asian customers also showed a keen interest in the C-27J. Particularly the C-27J was engaged in a campaign in the USA and Canada. During the demo tour Alenia Aeronautica had shown the aircraft to the institutional representatives, the Armed Forces and the specialized public.
The US had shown a great interest in the C-27J. The US Army was developing a joint requirement (FCA Program) for the US Army National Guard (replacement of 43 C-23 Sherpa), US Army Fixed Wing, for an initial market size of 37 aircraft. The Army National Guard ha indicated the Italian/American aircraft was a possible successor of the C-23 Sherpa, presently used by the National Guard in some 20 States.
The C-27J was an answer to the need of renewing the Search and Rescue airlift fleet (the Buffalos and the C-130s) of the Canadian Government, which could purchase 15 units of the Italian-US airlifter. The aircraft had already been formally evaluated by the Air Forces of Australia, Taiwan, Ireland, Portugal, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and other countries that have recently joined NATO.
On 15 February 2005, L-3 Communications and Alenia Aeronautica, the Italian industrial leader in aeronautical productions, announced a joint venture for production and support of the C-27J military transport aircraft. Under the terms of the venture, named Global Military Aircraft Systems (GMAS), L-3 Communications' Integrated Systems subsidiary (L-3 IS) and Alenia North America Inc., a subsidiary of Alenia Aeronautica, would pursue the US Army's Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) program.
The FCA program was part of the U.S. Army's Aviation Modernization program designated to restructure and revitalize its aviation assets. The FCA program called for the procurement of a new fleet of Cargo Fixed Wing aircraft and related logistical support.
Under the agreement, L-3 Integrated Systems and Alenia North America would jointly manage the venture. L-3 IS was at the time a leader in aircraft modernization, systems integration, contractor logistics support, training, and simulation. Alenia at the time was a leader in the design and manufacturing of commercial and military aircraft. GMAS represented the best team with key combined capabilities required for the US Army and the warfighter.
In March 2006 the Army's FCA program and the US Air Force's Light Cargo Aircraft (LCA) program were merged into a single Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) program. It was announced on 13 June 2007, that the US Army and the US Air Force had selected the team led by L-3 Communications that also included Alenia North America (a Finmeccanica Company), Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, and GMAS to build the JCA. The award was for a baseline contract estimated at $2.04 billion over the life of the program to supply a minimum of 78 C-27J JCA to the US Army and US Air Force.
The delivery date for the first aircraft was planned for September 2008. The system was scheduled to undergo initial operational test and evaluation from September to November 2009 and its initial operational capability was planned for February 2010. Program officials reported to the Government Accountability Office for a 2008 assessment that the production maturity was at a high level because the aircraft was commercially available, and production lines already established.
In 2008, due to strains on the Air Force Special Operations Command AC-130 gunship fleet, a proposal was submitted to acquire additional C-27J aircraft configured as AC-27J gunships. This proposal was evaluated during 2008 and 2009 and in 2010 the decision was made to instead pursue a modular weapons kit for the C-130 aircraft.
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