Air Platforms

USAF and Air National Guard re-evaluating intra-theatre airlift needs

20 November 2013
The US military received its first C-27J Spartan tactical cargo aircraft in October 2008. Today the programme is smaller and currently lacks a dedicated backer in the Pentagon. Source: Finmeccanica

The US National Guard and US Air Force (USAF) are reviewing intra-theatre airlift needs as the latter is seeking to unload its nascent Alenia C-27J Spartan fleet.

C-27J procurement began in 2007 as the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) programme run by the US Army and USAF, which were to buy 78 aircraft in total - 54 for the USAF and 24 for the army to supplant older C-12 Huron and C-23 Sherpa platforms.

The Air National Guard (ANG) was to operate the USAF's C-27J airlifters.

"The C-27 was a platform that we were very interested in for the homeland mission ... but with the sequestration bill that had to be paid, something had to go, and the air force selected that," General Frank Grass, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters during a 19 November breakfast meeting in Washington, DC.

Still, Gen Grass has asked the 'National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force' to study what smaller platforms, such as the C-12 Huron and C-23 Sherpa, have been lifting and how often and far they were flying over the last 10 years, both overseas and in the US. The ANG chief hopes this study will result in "a proposal of who's going to do that mission in the future, realising that we cannot afford everything".

Meanwhile, the USAF is trying to give away the 21 C-27Js it has purchased - which includes five now in production - to another US government agency. The army does not appear to want the aircraft, but US Special Operations Command, the US Coast Guard, and US Forest Service are understood to have submitted letters of interest.

COMMENT

At least some of the comity between the USAF and the Air National Guard on this issue and other force structure questions is, at least in part, due to the 'National Commission on the Structure of the Air Force'.

The commission is to recommend how or whether to restructure and remix the service "in a manner consistent with available resources", according to the group, and must submit "a detailed statement of the findings and recommendations" before February 2014 to the White House and to Congress.

The active duty USAF had recently sought to shift some of sequestration's cut more towards the Air National Guard, but the guard has a powerful constituency in Congress as each state has its own guard units that can be called into state active duty to deploy in support of domestic emergencies as well as federalised to deploy for military operations abroad.

Congress mandated the commission to settle some of the budget and force structure questions between the active air force and the guard.



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