Military Aerospace Technology Today is: Oct 22, 2006
Volume: 5  Issue: 2
Published: Oct 08, 2006

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This article was Originally Published on Feb 02, 2003 in Volume: 2  Issue: 1

Go Tell the Spartans

The C-27J wants to become a U.S. player and fill the Army’s fixed wing transformation needs.

By Michael Peck

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(Editor’s Note: As this issue of MAT goes to press it seems likely that the final terms of an agreement between Alenia and Lockheed Martin may not reflect as great a role for Lockheed in the C-27J program. Discussions between the two companies that will redefine the relationship are ongoing.)

With the Army National Guard seeking a new transport plane and the Coast Guard a new patrol aircraft, Italian manufacturer Alenia sees a big and profitable market for its C-27J Spartan. An Americanized version of Alenia’s G-222 aircraft, it is being marketed in the U.S. through a collaboration between the Italian company and Lockheed Martin.

The C-27J seems likely to be chosen to replace the C-23 Sherpas currently operated by the Army National Guard. Alenia also sees it as a candidate to become the Coast Guards’ Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), though the odds against this appear considerably steeper. The C-27J Spartan (not to be confused with its now-retired predecessor, the C-27A Spartan) is being touted as an aircraft designed from the start for military use. Taking advantage of the popularity of the ubiquitous C-130 Hercules transport, the C-27J was purposely designed to be highly compatible with the C-130J.

The Hercules and the Spartan

The C-27J is powered by two Rolls Royce/Allison turboprop engines. It can carry up to 62 troops, 46 paratroopers or 25,000 pounds of cargo up to range of 1,100 nautical miles. It has a maximum cruise speed of 325 knots and a maximum cruise ceiling of 30,000 feet.

The Spartan has a maximum takeoff weight of 70,000 pounds and a minimum ground run of less than 500 meters, a desirable quality for a military transport that will likely takeoff and land in tight spaces. Alenia-Lockheed point to the aircraft’s three-spar wing as one reason it can maneuver at a tight 3.5g’s.

Alenia (a part of Italy’s Finmeccanica) is collaborating with Lockheed Martin, with each currently providing 50 percent of the content. Should the Spartan enter the U.S. market, American content will rise to 75 percent, with the airframe made in Italy, and the engines and avionics in the U.S.

The C-27J is billed as perfectly complementing the larger C-130J. The manufacturers claim the Spartan, with a rough price tag of $25 million each, possesses 80 percent of the capabilities of a C-130J. Indeed, it shares engines, propellers and avionic suite with the Hercules.

In addition to carrying personnel, possible vehicular loads include two HMMWVs, two Chevrolet Suburbans, a Panhard AML-90 armored car or a Bell 206 helicopter. A medical evacuation loadout would be 36 stretchers and six medical attendants.

Five C-27Js have been ordered by the Italian Air Force (with an option for an additional 7) in a deal worth an estimated $206 million. An order for 12 by Greece is being finalized. Other potential customers include Australia, Canada, Ireland, Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Switzerland, according to the company.

Beefing up the Guard

The most immediate customer for the C-27J is the Army National Guard. The Guard’s fixed-wing air component operates 44 C-23 Sherpas, which are modified British Shorts 330 civilian airliners. They perform yeoman tasks such as troop transport and medical evacuation.

About 10 Sherpas were built in the Shorts factory while the remainder were reconditioned airliners that had been flying civilian routes. Now the 15-year-old C-23s cannot meet the U.S. Army’s requirements for its Interim and Objective Forces, according to Lieutenant Colonel Michael Bishop, commander of the Army National Guard’s Operational Support Airlift Command at Fort Belvoir, VA. “It is an unpressurized, slow aircraft that does not have self-deployment capability. If you load a C-23 up to its maximum internal gross weight, you are lucky if you can go 300 or 400 miles.”

The Sherpa lacks advanced avionics and does not have short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability. “It was a civilian aircraft that we militarized,” Bishop said. “We took it and said, ‘because we put a cargo door and ramp on it, it is a military aircraft.’ It just hasn’t met those expectations.”

While Bishop emphasized that it will ultimately be the U.S. Army that chooses the C-23’s successor, he did lay out what the National Guard needs from its tactical transport. “We are talking about a pressurized aircraft that is self-deployable. It should be capable of carrying a standard Air Force pallet. It should be able to land on an unimproved runway where the troops in the field can break the pallet down, or where it can be picked up by a helicopter, like the CH-47, and transported to the front.”

Pressurization is especially key for aeromedical or medevac missions. “If you don’t have a pressurized aircraft and you have people with sucking chest wounds, then you are limited to flying at extremely low levels,” said Bishop. Pressurized aircraft such as the C-27J can also fly above bad weather, allowing greater speed and using less fuel. For the Guard, whose humanitarian missions often require them to fly in bad weather, this is more than a luxury. “You can’t say, ‘It’s snowing over the Rockies, we have to wait until the storm goes down,’” Bishop added.

The National Guard’s numerous other humanitarian tasks make an aircraft such as the C-27J extremely useful. Firefighting requires dropping fire retardants, which the C-27J can do but the C-23 cannot, Bishop noted. The C-27J can also carry fire buckets for H-60 helicopters.

The C-27J’s longer range allows it to support wartime mobilization requirements, such as quickly ferrying key spare parts to Guard units shipping overseas. Bishop cited the Guard’s annual New Horizons training mission in Central America as an example of where limited range hurts. “There are significant challenges operating aviation down there. We routinely fly the C-23 out of Honduras and because of the limited capabilities of that airframe, the cargo restrictions, fuel, and pressurization, it just increases the number of aircraft we need to execute the mission and support requirements.” The Sherpa’s limited range means it must play “grasshopper” by going to New Orleans to Jamaica to Belize and then to Honduras. “These are not warfighting requirements, but they are real-world missions that we are doing right now,” Bishop said.

In terms of its new homeland security tasks, the Guard must be able to quickly deploy Civil Support Teams that test for biological or radiological contaminants. These teams, which were deployed to the site of the World Trade Center in the days after September 11, use HMMWVs and Suburbans.

Bishop said the Guard can’t get new transports soon enough. “I think that for the best support for Army warfighting requirements, along with supporting humanitarian services and state activities and events, we could not start replacing C-23s fast enough.”

Other American military customers evaluating the aircraft include the Army’s Golden Knights parachute team as well as Special Operations Command.

For the Coast Guard?

While the C-27J appears to have a solid chance of winning the National Guard’s contract, it’s a Coast Guard contract that is more questionable. The Coast Guard needs a new MPA, part of its huge Deepwater acquisition of new fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and ships. Deepwater currently calls for 35 MPAs, with 12 arriving in the first five years, beginning in 2005.

The program is being administered by Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS), a contract that could top $17 billion over the next two decades. Both ICGS and the Coast Guard insist that the MPA will be an extended range version of the Spanish EADS Casa CN-235 military and civilian transport. “I tell you with absolute certainty that I am executing a task order for developing the Casa aircraft for the Coast Guard,” said Commander Carl Alam, Aviation Project Manager for Deepwater.

However, the C-27J team believes that they still has a chance at winning the MPA contract. The Coast Guard could switch to the more expensive Spartan if Congress allocates more money for Deepwater. Or, as a source close to the C-27J program who asked not to be identified argues, the Spartan could become the new MPA if the events of September 11 spur changes in the aviation requirements of the 10-year-old Deepwater project. Alam says that September 11 has not created any “official changes in requirements as of yet, but those are all in the works. So when the requirements changes do come down the line, we will look at the entire system and see what the impacts are. All of the assets in the system are so interdependent that it’s going to take a detailed analysis by the integration team to assess them.”

The MPA will take over portions of the Coast Guard’s long-range surveillance and transport requirements upon the retirement of some of its aging and expensive HC-130s and HU-25 Guardians. Alam said the MPA will “offer greater maritime awareness” through more capable sensors, better sensors, digital links with other Coast Guard units, and possibly the ability to control Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The Coast Guard has recently acquired six C-130Js.

The Coast Guard lists several uses for the MPA including:

  • Detection and surveillance. An MPA is particularly effective at locating targets in a large search area and vectoring prosecution assets to the target. These aircraft can act as responders for offshore search operations, but they have limited prosecution capabilities.
  • Search and Rescue (SAR).
  • Transporting cargo. With their cargo carrying capacity, these aircraft can also be used for missions where extended range and flight endurance are required. The MPA also has significantly lower operating expenses than the HC-130.

The MPA will replace some HC-130s, but it cannot replace them all, in light of long missions that might be flown to a distant base such as Guam. “From a systems perspective, the MPA is not intended to take over all of the functionality of the long-range search (LRS) mission,” Alam said. “Physically, it can’t. The LRS has to have tremendous cargo capability, long range and endurance.”

Most HC-130s will be replaced by Global Hawks High Altitude Endurance (HAE) UAVs, with only six HC-130s deployed by 2022. “But the C-130s remain until the LRS capabilities of the HAE UAVs come into the system,” Alam added.

Beside the MPA, Deepwater will transform Coast Guard aviation in many ways.

The contract is a veritable grab bag of aerospace purchases, including long-range surveillance planes, multi-mission helicopters operating from Coast Guard cutters, Vertical Takeoff and Landing recovery and surveillance aircraft and Global Hawk high-altitude UAVs. For example, Deepwater specifies that HU-25 Guardian medium range surveillance planes will be completely replaced by a newer aircraft no later than 2016. Deepwater will also upgrade short-range HH-65 SAR helicopters, which will now be designated as Multi-Mission Cutter Helicopters (MCH). By 2022, there will be 93 MCH aircraft along with 34 Bell/Agusta AB139 VRS (VTOL Recovery and Surveillance) medium-range helicopters. Cruising at 157 knots, the AB139 has a maximum range of more than 400 miles.

In addition, the Coast Guard has selected the tilt-rotor Bell Eagle Eye as its Vertical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VUAV). The Eagle Eye’s VTOL capability enables it to launch off larger Coast Guard vessels. The aircraft can carry a 200-pound payload and cruise at 200 knots (or zero if it hovers) at 20,000 feet, with an endurance of 3.9 hours. It is scheduled to enter service in 2006, with 69 deployed by 2018.

Alam said the Coast Guard tried a new approach to procurement by giving ICGS flexibility to maximize effectiveness at minimum cost. “We didn’t constrain them to the traditional approach of a one to one replacement of assets.”  

Beside the Coast Guard, law enforcement agencies have also been mentioned as possible customers for the C-27J, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs.

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