Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA)
The Army's Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) was intended to replace the aging Sherpa fleet and improve battlefield troop support. The Air Force Light Cargo Aircraft would substitute for C-130s for smaller missions. Under the services joint plan, the Army would start with an initial order for 33 planes, with up to 100 more aircraft later. The Air Force would have input on the choice, and would buy at least 100 in later years. The L-3 C-27J bid was heavier, had more powerful engine (the same as the C-130J). The Raytheon-EADS C-295 had lower fuel costs and larger cargo hold.
The Army's objective for fixed-wing aircraft modernization was to reduce the fleet to five standard platforms for short-range (C-12), medium-range (UC-35), and long-range (C-20) utility aircraft, FCA, and Aerial Common Sensor as the objective special electronic mission aircraft (SEMA) platform. The planned FCA acquisition would provide the Army with a new fixed-wing transport aircraft capable of performing rapid-response intratheater missions with cargo, equipment and soldiers, as well as medevac duties and airdrop delivery.
Candidates for the FCA program included the Lockheed Martin/Alenia C-27J and the EADS Casa CN-235 and C-295. Lockheed-Martin marketed the Spartan in the US and it shared many C-130J systems. The C-27J built upon a 35 year history of the Italian Alenia G222. The C-295 fell under the aegis of the giant EADS aerospace consortium. The C-295 was less expensive to purchase, maintain and operate than the C-27J. The Spartan could carry more cargo faster, higher and further than the C-295. The C-295 had more modern aerodynamics and non-hydraulic flight controls. The flight deck of the Spartan was well laid out and well-equipped. The same went for the C-295 and both have great cockpit visibility. The Spartan's cargo hold was a bit bigger than the C-295's, though the C-295 could hold a "Hummer" wheeled vehicle with a couple inches to spare.
The Army planned to procure 33 new FCA during the time period of FY07-FY11. The FCA was to be a key component in the Army's transformation of its fixed wing fleet. Fixed wing, multi-purpose, cargo aircraft would support a full range of sustainment operations and would transport time-sensitive/mission-critical supply items and/or personnel over operational/tactical distances to forward-deployed troops, in remote and austere locations. These fixed wing aircraft would normally operate from permanently established bases in the theater, and would operate as required from forward bases to include: Intermediate Staging Bases (ISB), theater aerial ports of debarkation (APOD), and airfields located near sea ports of debarkation (SPOD).
The FCA provided an "order of magnitude" improvement by replacing multiple Army platforms (i.e., C-23, C-26, and C-12) and complementing existing joint capability with a single, more capable, airborne cargo platform. The need for FCA to replace existing Army C-23 Sherpa aircraft had been further underscored by the service's operational experience in Iraq, where ground convoys were found to be extremely vulnerable and CH-47 helicopters were handling much of the intra-theater airlift duties.
To support the Future Force, the FCA would be a multifunctional aircraft, able to perform logistical resupply, casualty evacuation, troop movement, airdrop operations, humanitarian assistance, and missions in support of Homeland Security. To support the Future Force Brigade Combat Team (BCT), it would be necessary for mission-critical/time-sensitive supplies and key personnel to be delivered from intermediate staging bases directly to the BCT, often operating in high threat environments in remote, austere locations.
With dispersed forces operating at greater ranges in a non-contiguous battlespace, the range from the Forward Operating Bases (FOB) to the maneuver units had extended beyond the logistical resupply range of the Army's rotary wing aircraft. For aerial sustainment operations, the FCA would perform limited organic service support directly to the tactical maneuver units and/or the closest forward support base for further movement by Army rotary wing aircraft or ground transportation.
The Fixed Wing Product Manager (FW PM) sought information, comments and suggestions from manufacturers who intended to perform in a prime contractor role. For informational purposes only, the following notional contract schedule and quantities were provided:
- Planned RFP release: 1 October 2005
- Planned Early Operational Assessment: 1 May-1 June 2006
- Planned Contract Award: January 2007
- Planned Quantities: 33 aircraft during FY07-FY11.
On 23 February 2004, the US Army announced the termination of the Comanche Helicopter Program. As a result, the Army would restructure aviation organizations to reflect current and anticipated needs. As a result of the Comanche termination decision, the Army would focus additional resources on the FCA program designed to improve intra-theater lift capacity.
The Army issued a draft RFP for the aircraft in August 2005. In December 2005 the Army prepared to release a Request for Proposals (RFP) for up to 145 aircraft to replace the aging fleet of C-23 Sherpas.
The Air Force opposed the release of the RFP, and raised questions as to why the Army needed so many aircraft, given airlift capabilities of the Air Force. Air Force leaders had made pronouncements about whether or not the Future Cargo Aircraft or the Smaller Cargo Aircraft, which was approximately the size as the old C-123, as far as carrying capacity, should be a replacement of the Sherpa or should it be a replacement of the C-123 fleet, which the Air Force did have any more.
When the Army got into modularity in their Future Combat Systems and they began looking at a non-linear battlefield. The challenge was how to supply those units through that white space and how to get things that they need when they need it without having to be road dependent.
The services have looked at vertical lift, fixed wing, and other options, and spent a lot of time looking at something that was beyond just a Sherpa replacement. While the Sherpa replacement was valid for the Army, the Air Force asked what should be done in the future on a non-linear battlefield and how to survive the threat array and how to resupply those forces. This was not much different than for the early phases of Afghanistan. For the first year and a half of Afghanistan, everything that went into that piece of the theater went in by air because there was no ground LOC open. An aircraft with the capability that the Air Force was talking about with Light Cargo Aircraft could get in and out of places with 2500 or 3000 feet and you can do that on a routine basis because it offers many more options.
The Air Force looked at the opportunities and the options, and concluded it made sense across the board, even when thinking about homeland defense and homeland security. With disaster relief, to be able to operate out of smaller airfields, and to be able to do that with a higher sortie generation rate seemed to be an inherent good.
In January 2006 the Army and Air Force were given 90 days to settle on the role of the Army's Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) and begin a delayed, multibillion dollar competition for buying the aircraft.
The competition would be between Raytheon's CASA C-295 and the C-27J Spartan of L-3 Communications and Finmeccanica. The first 33 aircraft would be worth about $1.2 billion, but would grow to several billion dollars if all 145 aircraft were procured.
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. 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.
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