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This article was Originally Published on Oct 20, 2005 in Volume: 4  Issue: 3

Future Cargo

The Army is looking for new fixed-wing aircraft to carry passengers and light cargo over the expanding battlespace.

By Mickey McCarter

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As two aerospace industry teams look on closely and prepare for an all-out contract competition, the Army is putting the finishing touches on its requirements for a new fixed-wing aircraft to carry passengers and light cargo over the expanding battlespace.

Bids for the Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) program are about to take off under the management of the Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM), which has been preparing a request for proposals (RFP) to replace the Army’s C-23B Sherpa, Fairchild C-26 Metro and Beechcraft C-12 King Air planes. The two contracting teams at the top of the list contending to replace these fixed-wing aircraft are led by European manufacturers working closely with U.S.-based defense companies.

EADS CASA North America and Raytheon are bidding to serve as the prime contractor supplying aircraft based on their EADS C-295 and CN-235 platforms. EADS CASA is the Spanish component of Netherlands-based European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.

Alenia North America, an arm of the Italian aircraft manufacturer, has likewise chosen L-3 Communications Integrated Systems as its prime partner for the C-27J Spartan, forming Global Military Aircraft Systems.

Both teams have pledged to establish facilities for integration work on their aircraft in the United States if they win the contract.

The contenders emerged after a May deadline for request for information (RFI). AMCOM released a draft RFP in August, and announced that the final version would be released in October, with a contract award in January 2007. The command plans an early operational assessment next spring.

The program management office for FCA, based at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, AL, declined to discuss FCA, citing the sensitive timing of the program.

The FCA program, potentially worth $1.3 billion to the winning team in the first five years, would buy 33 initial aircraft between fiscal 2007 and 2011 to replace the Army’s 43 Sherpa planes. The Army National Guard plans to obtain three in the first year, four in the second year, seven in the third, eight in the fourth, and then 11 to round out the initial order, sources say.

The entire program is projected to run through 2025, by which time it should replace all C-26 and C-23 aircraft and select C-12s, according to Army documents. The AMCOM RFI indicates that the future aircraft would support a range of missions, including logistical resupply, casualty evacuation, troop movement, airdrop operations, humanitarian assistance and homeland security support, operating in forward bases and the continental United States.

“The FCA is a key component in the Army’s transformation of its fixed wing fleet,” the RFI stated. “Fixed wing, multipurpose cargo aircraft will support a full range of sustainment operations and will transport time-sensitive/mission-critical supply items and/or personnel over operational/tactical distances to forward-deployed troops, in remote and austere locations.”

The Army noted that its forces have been fighting over greater distances in a battlespace that is sometime broken up by great distances, making it difficult for rotary-wing aircraft, its traditional airpower component, to resupply deployed forces.

Military Design

The C-27J has an edge over the competition because it is designed specifically for military use, according to Robert W. Drewes, president of L-3 Communications Integrated Systems.

“For example, this is an aircraft that has been designed with a fuselage that is interoperable with other aircraft that are bringing cargo pallets into the country,” Drewes said. “The fuselage will allow two up-armored Humvees to go right on the aircraft and exit the aircraft and immediately go into action without having to do modifications, such as putting the windshields back on.”

Not only could a Humvee drive straight out of a C-130 and onto a C-27J without difficulty, but also the C-27J can handle pallets from larger cargo aircraft like the C-130 and transport them to forward operating locations, he said.

“These pallets are packed so that they can fit on a large cargo aircraft,” Drewes explained. “They arrive at the country, and now the pallets need to be put on a medium lift aircraft to deploy to troops. You want to be able to deploy those pallets quickly, so you don’t have to do a lot of repacking.”

The height of the cargo floor in the C-27J Spartan is adjustable to allow flexibility in dealing with different site conditions and cargo-handling equipment, Drewes added. The Spartan boasts an auxiliary power unit, redundant systems and maximum visibility of its windows. The aircraft could hold up to 68 troops, but that number drops to 46 with fully equipped paratroopers.

“The doors accommodate fully sized paratroopers with all the equipment they usually jump with,” Drewes said. “This aircraft has been designed with the soldier and combat operations in mind. That’s very distinctive.”

The C-27J can carry a maximum payload of 25,353 pounds and has a fuel capacity of 3,255 gallons. It has a maximum cruise speed of 325 knots true airspeed and a range of about 1,000 nautical miles when it is close to its payload weight limit, but about 2,300 nautical miles when the weight is at about half capacity. The C-27J has Rolls Royce AE 2100-D2 engines, which produce 4,637 shaft horsepower each.

The C-27J Spartan is an upgraded version of the Alenia G.222, and the aircraft was developed by Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems. Both Italy and Greece have each ordered about a dozen of the aircraft for their air forces, and Bulgaria recently placed an order for eight of them.

Drewes noted that L-3 handles worldwide logistics for U.S. Special Forces and conducts maintenance on the Sherpa, which, combined with other responsibilities held by the company, provides L-3 with key insight into the military’s needs in a medium intralift cargo airplane.

Interoperable Payloads

The joint Raytheon/EADS CASA Team FCA views the FCA mission as one that involves rapid response for short distances around a battlefield or across a city, said team Vice President Jim Hvizd. The Air Force will continue to support long-distance missions with the C-130, he argued, making the Spartan’s similarities to that aircraft C-130 redundant.

“We developed an airplane that is actually much more interoperable with the back end,” Hvizd said. “That is, from when you take payload at the forward operating bases from tactical airlift, those payloads are broken down today, and will continue to be broken down into smaller, but voluminous, payload that has to go to a lot of different areas.”

The Raytheon/EADS alliance began earlier in the process, as Raytheon watched with interest when the Army began talking to industry about the FCA program. But the company quickly realized that it didn’t have an offering of its own that would fulfill the Army’s requirements, Hvizd said, although subsidiary Raytheon Aircraft has been building Army aircraft since World War II.

Meanwhile, EADS CASA was shopping for a U.S. systems integrator with specialized knowledge of the Army, Hvizd said. The two companies formed a partnership and began promoting the EADS C-295 as well as the CN-235, a slightly shorter cargo plane that the companies believe also may fulfill FCA requirements.

“We believe that the aircraft right now is compliant with some of the low-end Army objectives in the current FCA offering,” Hvizd said. “As we have seen this specification, it has left enough room that the 235 still looks like a potential best-value candidate, and that’s why we are continuing to pursue it.”

The CN-235 carries about 13,000 pounds of cargo, while the C-295, which is 10.2 feet longer, carries about 19,800 pounds. The CN-235 is also in production for the Coast Guard’s Deepwater System, that service’s procurement program to replace its aging ships and aircraft.

Both the C-295 and CN-235 are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration, Hvizd added, and about 250 CN-235 aircraft have been sold to agencies in 24 nations.

The Army’s lessons learned with cargo aircraft show that the FCA must be a configurable plane that can adapt to the Army National Guard’s needs, whether at home or in theater, Hvizd said. That means the expenses for operating and configuring an FCA aircraft must be as low as possible, he added.

“That’s our other real discriminator,” he said. “We are less than half the cost to operate of a C-27J.”

The C-295 can carry 79 troops or 49 paratroopers, and has a maximum operating speed of 260 knots true airspeed. The C-295 also has a range of about 2,300 nautical miles while carrying about 10,000 pounds of payload. It has two Pratt & Whitney PW127G engines generating 2,645 shaft horsepower.

While proponents of the C-27J highlight its similarities to the C-130, C-295 creators are proud of how their aircraft matches the CH-47 Chinook, typically the Army’s tactical supply helicopter. The match-up of the C-295 airplane’s cargo cabin cross-section to the CH-47 helicopter’s cabin enables direct transfer of military pallets from one to the other, according to EADS CASA documentation.

“As you know, Army aviation is mostly rotary wing, and those guys tend to rule the day,” Hvizd said. “In this case, the fixed wing office gets to buy their next-generation airplane that is designed and capable of doing multiple kinds of missions.”

Buy America

Both FCA contractor teams have promised to integrate avionics for their airplanes in the United States should they win the FCA contract. Buy America regulations stipulate that at least 50 percent of the work performed under defense contracts must occur within the United States.

The L-3/Alenia GMAS partnership announced in July that it would open a program office in Huntsville, AL, near the Redstone Arsenal, and Raytheon and EADS could easily do the same. The teams have announced that their offerings would be produced in Europe, however, with the C-27J assembled in Italy and the C-295 or CN-235 in Spain. The companies have expressed a willingness to invest in U.S. assembly plants if they find enough American demand for the aircraft.

Critics have decried the Navy’s recent award of its vertical-lift aircraft (VXX) contract, which includes the Marine One presidential helicopter fleet, to Team US101, which included AgustaWestland and Bell Helicopter Textron. AgustaWestland is owned by the Italian firm Finmeccanica—the same firm that owns Alenia.

Although initial awards in both the VXX and FCA programs are well above $1 billion, the reduced visibility and less glamorous mission of the FCA aircraft, along with the lack of a U.S. competitor, seem to have silenced critics of U.S. awards to foreign aircraft companies.

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