In recent counter-insurgency and asymmetric campaigns, many air forces have found that their targets have tended to be fleeting, emerging only briefly before melting back into cover – where they cannot be engaged without the risk of collateral damage. Armed ISR and ISTAR aircraft offer a means of hitting a fleeting target as soon as it is detected.
Many air power strategists and tacticians believe that in future campaigns, every aircraft platform will have to be a sensor and a shooter, as well as being a node on the network.
This has led to the development of a range of armed ISTAR aircraft, from missile-armed Cessna Combat Caravans to larger, more heavily armed gunships such as Alenia’s MC-27J Praetorian.
Development of an armed version of the C-27J Spartan tactical transport began in 2008 to meet a US Air Force Special Operations Command requirement for a new AC-XX light gunship to operate in austere locations, with increased operational flexibility and a smaller support tail than the AC-130. A prototype was converted as a risk-reduction exercise.
The US requirement was subsequently cancelled, but Alenia (Finmeccanica, Stand 06-A03) continued work on the project, reasoning that a C-27J gunship was needed for the international market. It offered a 50 per cent lower acquisition life cycle than the AC-130, while being able to fly 90 per cent of the bigger and more expensive gunship’s missions.
The MC-27J is equipped to carry a roll-on/roll-off gun system, consisting of a self-contained, modular pallet with a side-firing 30mm GAU-23, and is fitted with an undernose L-3 Wescam MX-15Di electro-optical and infrared turret. The MC-27J offers significant ISR and communications capabilities, allowing it to undertake command and control (C2), armed overwatch, close air support, strike co-ordination and armed maritime defence missions, while still being easily reconfigurable back to the airlift role.
Alenia partnered with ATK for the MC-27J Praetorian programme, which was formally launched at the Farnborough International Air Show in July 2012. Italy became the first customer for the MC-27J in November 2013, during the Dubai Air Show.
Six of the Italian air force’s 12 C-27Js will be converted to the MC-27J Praetorian configuration – three with the full package of mission systems, C3ISR equipment and palletised fire systems, and another three aircraft with the same mission package capabilities and ability to have the full Praetorian systems installed if needed. The aircraft will be used by Italy’s Comando interforze per le Operazioni delle Forze Speciali.