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Published: Feb 21, 2007

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This article was Originally Published on Apr 19, 2006 in Volume: 5  Issue: 1

Future Cargo Program

Having issued a new request for proposals for the Future Cargo Aircraft program, both services now say they believe there could be more than two contenders to build the light cargo plane. Boeing also wants a role in the competition.

By Rodney L. Pringle

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Now that the U.S. Army and Air Force have issued a new request for proposals (RFP) for the Future Cargo Aircraft program, both services say they are optimistic that joint development of the light cargo airplane will lead to cost savings and an end product to fit the needs of both entities. The services also believe that there could be more than two contenders to build the light cargo plane when everything is said and done.

The Army and Air Force view FCA, soon to be renamed the Joint Cargo Aircraft program, as 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. The new aircraft would replace the Army’s 43 Sherpa planes and ease the Air Force’s reliance on the C-130, its workhorse intratheater cargo plane. It would also expand the military’s ability to ferry cargo and troops to remote places because they would be able to land on runways of just 2,000 feet, opening access to more than 6,000 additional runways around the world.

The Army and Air Force agreed to a memorandum of understanding on Jan. 30, 2006, to jointly develop a FCA aircraft, and are working out details of a formal joint agreement on the development of the fixed-wing plane, according to Army officials. The services released the new RFP this past month. Final proposals are due May 17, with a contractor award expected in November 2006.

At a March 17 Pentagon press briefing to discuss FCA, Brigadier General Stephen D. Mundt, director of Army Aviation, said the aircraft will bring “a tremendous capability to our military services.”

“In just two more years, as we begin to field this aircraft, we will start to reduce one of the highest risk environments our soldiers are operating in today, road convoys,” Mundt said.

Mundt also said he wanted to put to rest rumors that the Army and Air Force were having “a battle over turf” concerning the FCA program. “The Army is not trying to replace the Air Force or compete with their roles and missions,” Mundt said. “No one does strategic or operational intratheater lift better than the Air Force; nobody! But the Air Force does not perform missions in the tactical spectrum all the way down to what we call ‘the last tactical mile;’ historically, tactical wheeled vehicles and helicopters have performed that role … The Army needs additional intratheater tactical lift capability. The Air Force agrees with this identified gap.”

Brigadier General Andrew Dichter, deputy director of operation capability requirements for the Air Force, said the service is committed to making the FCA program a success. “The Air Force has been the service provider of intratheater airlift, and for approximately 40 years, we’ve done that with essentially one airplane—the C-130,” Dichter said. “While the C-17 does perform a limited intratheater role, we are long overdue in diversifying our intratheater airlift fleet. Our challenge is to transform our fleet, with limited dollars available, to meet the transformational needs of not only the Army, but of all the services and the combatant commanders. The Air Force is prepared to take on that challenge, and fielding this capability along with the Army is a significant step toward that goal.”

There has been some speculation that the Army intends to initially buy 75 of the FCA aircrafts and that the Air Force intends to purchase 70. Mundt said the exact numbers have yet to be finalized.

The Army was poised to release the final RFP for FCA last year until the Air Force signaled its interest in purchasing a light cargo aircraft. Though aware of the Air Force’s interest in a similar capability, the Army still hoped it could go forward with FCA and address the Air Force’s needs at the Milestone C point in September 2006, according to Army officials. Instead, Pentagon acquisition chief Ken Krieg stopped the FCA RFP release and instructed the Army and Air Force to report back to him with their assessment on a possible joint program. FCA is one of several off-the-shelf aircraft purchases that are part of a comprehensive restructuring of Army aviation being funded with the $14.6 billion saved by the cancellation of the RAH-66 Comanche helicopter.

So far, only two European companies have said they will compete for the $1.3 billion program. French-German group EADS CASA North America is teamed with Raytheon to offer either the C-235, C-295 or a mixture of both for the competition. Global Military Systems, a joint venture of L-3 Communications and Italy’s Alenia, is offering the C-27J Spartan. The services hope to pick a winning bid in early December 2006, with an eye to fielding the first plane in 2008, according to program officials. Mundt said he expects to have a memorandum of agreement approved by the vice chiefs of staff of both services no later than May 1, 2006, and after that time, the FCA program would be renamed JCA.

Military Design

Howard Yellen, general manager for GMAS and a retired Army brigadier general, told Military Aerospace Technology that the C-27J is the ideal aircraft to support FCA because “it was built from the ground up as a military vehicle.”

“This is an aircraft that is built and can be operated in direct support of Army ground forces around the world,” Yellen said. The C-27J is an upgraded version of the Alenia G.222, which was developed by Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems.

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 payload weight limit. At half its weight capacity, the aircraft has a range of about 2,300 nautical miles The engine for the C-27J will use Rolls Royce AE 2100-D2 engines, which produce 4,637 shaft horsepower each.

Yellen said the C-27J is reliable, dependable, easy to maintain and survivable. “This is the right aircraft for the right time,” he said.

Giuseppe Giordo, president and CEO of Alenia North America, said the joint Army and Air Force program is “very strategic for us, not just in terms of winning, but it also gives Alenia the basis for further investment in the United States.”

“We intend to have a full industrial capability in the United States to produce the aircraft,” Giordo said. “We will select a production site soon. With L-3 we have a great team, we are ready to respond to the RFP, and we look forward to supporting the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force with the best aircraft to meet their requirements.”

EADS and Raytheon, now referring to themselves as Team JCA, believe that the C-295 or CN-235 would best meet the needs of the services for a small, workhorse intratheater aircraft.

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, which is designed to replace its aging ships and aircraft. 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.

Jim Hvizd, Raytheon’s vice president of Team JCA, said the C-295 and CN-235 are “a combat-proven military solution that meets both Army and Air Force needs for light and medium cargo lift missions—meeting the operational demands of interdependent U.S. and coalition forces supporting the last mile and more.” Jose Morales, CEO of EADS CASA North America, said the C-295 and CN-235 “have been proven many times over with allied countries around the world in the most demanding combat and peacekeeping operations.”

More competitors not likely, analysts say

Richard Aboulafia, vice president of analysis for the Teal Group, told MAT that it is too soon to know which group has the edge in landing the FCA contract. More will be known once the services release a final RFP and provide specific detail on program requirements, he said. “The problem is we don’t really know what the program will look like,” Aboulafia said.

Each offering by GMAS and Team JCA has its pluses and minuses, he said. “If both [services] go along and decide to build up a small combat lift capability, then the C-27J would have the edge,” Aboulafia said. “If this just reverts to an airship replacement program, then the C-295 would have a strong advantage. I guess it would be more [economical].”

Paul Nesbit, an aerospace analyst for JSA Research, said he believes it is wise for the Army and Air Force to approach the program jointly. “It doesn’t make sense that each go out and buy their own [aircraft],” he said. “They can collaborate and make one buy for the both of them.”

Both Army and Air Force officials have speculated that more than two groups could emerge to compete for the FCA contract. “There are various contractors interested,” Ey said. “To understand who might or might not be competing, you should check with the contractors themselves.”

Industry sources have told MAT that Boeing is holding discussions with Alenia about the possibility of getting on the GMAS team. Boeing passed on the opportunity a year ago, sources said, but with the area potentially becoming a growing market, the company has rethought its strategy.

Rick Sanford, a Boeing spokesman for its Global Mobility Systems division, said the company hopes to be a part of the FCA program. “We definitely are interested in playing in the bid for whatever this turns out to be,” he said. “We don’t built that type of aircraft, hence our ability to [want to] partner with someone. We are talking to a number of entities so that we will be able to partner with a company.” Sanford said Boeing would elaborate more on who it plans to partner with when a final agreement between the two is reached, which could take place within the next month or so.

“The bottom line is that we definitely plan to be engaged in this competition,” he said. “I think we will talk about it when we have a teaming arrangement worked out.”

Nesbit said although GMAS and Team JCA could add a partner or two in the future as they compete for the program, he doesn’t expect the groups will have additional competition for the contract. “I don’t know of any other aircraft that would be suitable [for the FCA program],” he said. “We don’t have any in this country. The groups seem pretty well set. I think it is pretty late in the game [for another contractor] to jump in.”

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