Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA)
With the signing of a memorandum of agreement 20 June 2006, the vice chiefs of staff of the Air Force and the Army agreed on a way ahead for converging the service's independent acquisition programs for a joint cargo aircraft. The Air Force and the Army agreed in June 2006 that the aircraft each service needed would have the same basic platform, with some intra-service requirements. The services signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA), which outlined missions, roles, command and control, service responsibilities and the way ahead for doctrine, organizations, training, maintenance, logistics, leadership, personnel and facilities. The memorandum of agreement signed by the two services was to pave the way ahead for the aircraft's development was said to defy all who said it would never happen. A Joint Program Office, comprised of personnel from both branches of service, was scheduled to open 1 October 2006, in Huntsville, Alabama, with the Army taking the lead.
The Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) would be a small aircraft developed for both the Army and the Air Force. It would be smaller than the Air Force's C-130 Hercules, but larger than the Army's C-23 Sherpa.
Most likely, the aircraft would be a variant of an aircraft already available in the civilian sector, and the manufacturer would modify it for military use. JCA would not build from the bottom up, a new airplane and take six or seven years to get it in the field. The services looked for something to fill the capability gap immediately. Purchasing an aircraft already being manufactured by a contractor would ensure a lower cost acquisition and a speedier delivery of the capability. Both the services agreed the selection would be based on speed, range, capacity, and the ability to land on unimproved runways or in more austere locations.
Both services said they expected delivery of the aircraft to the Army to begin in 2008, with "source selection," that is the choice of the manufacturer, to be made by December 2006. The Air Force expected take delivery of its first aircraft in 2010.
There were discussions about the purchase of nearly 150 of the aircraft, though that number was noted to be flexible based on any number of factors, including what was determined to be the unified commanders' requirements. As of 2006 there was general agreement the Army would proceed with about 75 aircraft. The Air Force would pick up, using the Army's initial requirement, to round out the fleet at about 145 aircraft. Ongoing studies would further refine the requirement. The acquisition authorities were the ultimate decision makers.
For years, the Army had used the C-23 Sherpa, the C-12 Huron and the C-26 Metroliner to provide "organic" intratheater airlift. "Intratheater" means inside a theater of operations. For example, anything meant to fly exclusively inside Iraq today would be intratheater. "Organic" means exclusive to a service. The Army using Army aircraft to move Army supplies and people between Army units is considered organic. The Army used the Sherpa and other rotor-wing assets to move goods "the last tactical mile," the final distance between far out Army depots and the troops scattered in the field in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.
The Army's Sherpa fleet was getting old, though. At the same time, the aircraft was no longer meeting the new demands of the Army mission. The plane was not pressurized, for instance, so it had altitude restrictions and it cannot be used for medical evacuation missions. In addition, the aircraft had a short range that made it difficult to get into the Southwest Asia theater of operations. Additionally, the aircraft was not large enough to carry a standard Air Force cargo pallet. So pallets needed to be broken down and reconfigured for use on the Sherpa.
With the changing battlefield, the brigade combat teams modularity and the logistics concept of support changing to a push system, the Army needed additional intra-theater lift capability to fill the last tactical mile. Historically, the Air Force had not perform missions in the tactical spectrum, down to that point. Tactical wheeled vehicles and helicopters had performed that role. Combining the two aircraft was a natural step because of the similarities in the capability gaps of each service.
With JCA, the Army could fly into 29 additional airfields in Iraq and another 10 airfields in Afghanistan. The JCA would absorb much of the stress being placed on the Army's CH-47 helicopter fleet, which had amassed over 1.2 million flight hours since October 2001.
The Air Force also needed new lightweight intratheater airlift. The Air Force had used the C-130 to do intratheater airlift for over 40 years. The aircraft was often too large for some aircraft movements today in support of the global war on terrorism. The aircraft was frequently not carrying capacity loads, especially when something was needed immediately. There was a significant cost associated with loading up a C-130 with just one pallet of supplies, or 10 people to move when it can carry almost five times that amount. A smaller plane would be ideal to move small amounts of cargo and personnel with the kind of immediacy needed.
In the experience in Afghanistan, where there are dispersed strongholds of US forces, there was no good infrastructure with highways and roads and safe travel. That caused the Air Force to pause and ask, 'Is there something here for both our services?'. Evidence of the Air Force's need for light intratheater airlift capability came during Hurricane Katrina support efforts in and around New Orleans. The Air Force would have been able to put to good use an aircraft that could move a small amount of cargo a short distance from unimproved runways. In the case of Katrina, of course, it was not unimproved runways, but damaged runways, those covered with water and debris from the storm. Air Force senior leaders saw a need for these aircraft, based on the commitments around the world. They were also sensitive to what they saw with Hurricane Katrina disaster relief and the emerging role of US Northern Command and the homeland defense mission.
In the end, six critical JCA missions were outlined:
- Critical resupply
- Casualty evacuation
- Air drop (personnel/supplies)
- Aerial sustainment
- Troop transport
- homeland security
The Army and the Air Force had been working separately to develop a small-capacity, intratheater airlift capability. In late 2005, the Department of Defense directed the Army's "Future Cargo Aircraft" program and the Air Force's "Light Cargo Aircraft" program be merged into the single "Joint Cargo Aircraft" program. By October 2006, the services would stand up a Joint Program Office in Huntsville, Alabama, to address their similar needs. In March 2005, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council approved the Army's Initial Capabilities Document. That document identified the Army's capability gap in organic airlift. The JCA Request for Proposals was released 17 March 2006 after the Acquisition Strategy Report was signed that morning.
For the Army, it meant they would maintain and improve on their ability to move Army supplies out to the very troops that would use them: providing munitions, supplies, and personnel support to soldiers scattered out to the farthest reaches of the global war on terrorism. For the Air Force, it meant improved responsiveness, flexibility and quality of service to the joint warfighter by pushing supplies out past established, improved runways. It meant a new ability to do light cargo and personnel movements inside a theater of operations, and during humanitarian missions in the United States. Lastly, it meant doing those things at a cost far lower than what is now possible with the C-130 or the C-17.
On 1 August 2006, the C-130J was eliminated from the Army competition to build a new cargo aircraft that could have been worth as much as $5 billion. Lockheed's C-130J transport, a candidate for the JCA for use with the Army and Air Force, did not meet some initial technical requirements, according to a letter from the Army. The C-130J was more airplane at a higher price than was required to meet the Army's requirements.
The elimination left two competitors. The first was Global Military Aircraft Systems (GMAS), a joint venture between L-3 Communications Integrated Systems (L-3 IS), a division of L-3 Communications, and Alenia Aeronautica (a Finmeccanica company), through its Alenia North America Inc. subsidiary. GMAS aimed to provide the US Army and Air Force with a solution for its JCA operational and support requirements, and to pursue the opportunities with the DoD and internationally, through the production and the outfit of the C-27J tactical transport aircraft. The team was headed by L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, but also included Italian aircraft manufacturer Alenia Aeronautica and Boeing, planned to build planes in Florida and do much of the other work in Mississippi were it to win the contract. L-3 would perform finish work and paint the C-27J in Waco, Texas.
The second was a team of Raytheon Company and EADS North America. It was expected to offer a version of a twin-engine aircraft produced by CASA, Spain's aerospace company that was part of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space consortium. Team JCA, led by Raytheon Company with EADS CASA North America, chose the Mobile Regional Airport (MRA) as the final assembly and delivery site for its proposed CN-235/C-295 solution for the US Army and US Air Force JCA requirement. In addition, EADS CASA North America would establish at the MRA a new final delivery center for CN-235 and C-295 transport aircraft to be sold into the North American market.
It was announced on June 13, 2007, that the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force selected the team led by L-3 Communications that also included Alenia North America (a Finmeccanica Company), Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, and Global Military Aircraft Systems (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 U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.
On 22 June 2007, the Team JCA partnership led by Raytheon Company and EADS CASA North America filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office to contest the Joint Cargo Aircraft selection process. The protest centered on three points, as enunciated by Team JCA:
- The JCA source selection board rated Team JCA equal to its competitor on all non-price factors in its criteria, including technical, logistics, management/production and past performance.
- Raytheon beat its competitor's price by more than 15 percent
- There were errors in the specific evaluation of data and the application of the evaluation criteria
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