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27 janvier 2012 5 27 /01 /janvier /2012 08:25
USAF, Army Still Squabbling Over C-27J

Photo: C-27J Team

Jan 26, 2012 By Amy Butler - aviation week and space technology

Washington - U.S. military officials are keen on saying they never intend to fight the last war. This is their way of indicating a focus on future conflicts, not on the past.

Apparently, this sentiment does not apply to the interservice skirmishes at the Pentagon. The U.S. Army and Air Force are in the final throes of hashing out an updated agreement on the time-sensitive, direct-support airlift mission, the latest chapter in a years-long saga over how to ship supplies to remote soldiers despite two wars and one stunted buy of Alenia’s C-27J.

The agreement is being made between the chiefs of staff of both services. At issue is how the time-sensitive airlift mission will be handled; this includes the shuttling of small loads of supplies to forward Army units in the field.

The outcome of this cargo rub between the two services could be the first of many such roles-and-missions scrapes. As the Pentagon looks to save money by killing some programs or nixing new ones, the Army and Air Force are also on a crash course regarding the small fleets of tactical, fixed-wing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft that each have procured since the start of the Iraq invasion in 2003. In the case of the General Atomics Gray Eagle and Reaper UAS, the developmental Enhanced Medium-Altitude Reconnaissance and Surveillance System (Emarss) and MC-12W Project Liberty aircraft, the services operate very similar systems. In at least one case—with Emarss and the MC-12W—lawmakers have suggested that only one service manage a unified fleet.

As it did with its rotary-wing fleet, the Army is trying to reduce the number of unique airframes in its tactical ISR fleet, says Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, who heads up the Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala. “We have a plan to divest of some of the different types of aircraft [and shift to] fewer single airframes.” Without saying which aircraft would be let go, Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, the Army’s program executive officer for aviation, says the service must “pick those that have been the best bang for the buck.”

Though Crosby notes there is still more work to be done on this, the airlift debate is raging.

“The concern is the logistics part,” says Crutchfield. “What we have to sort out is: ‘Who does that?’”

If this sounds familiar, it is.

The last installment of this tug-of-war took place in 2005 when, during his first major speech to the Air Force Association, the then Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. T. Michael Moseley, announced he wanted a new light cargo aircraft. This was considered odd as the Army was in the midst of setting up its future cargo aircraft program, which was then crafted to replace old C-23 Sherpas and provide more immediate access to commanders for cargo support. At the time, the Army moved ahead with its own program because it felt that it had lackluster support by the Air Force to properly back its needs.

Underscoring the need for direct-support activities were the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that called for distributing supplies around small, remote Army outposts. Not only were the Sherpas aging, they lacked pressurized cabins, making it difficult to operate them at high altitude in places such as Afghanistan, says Col. Patrick Tierney, director of the Army’s aviation directorate.

Moseley’s push, along with his similar and later move to take over the Army’s burgeoning UAV force, was seen as an abrupt roles-and-missions grab by the Air Force in the midst of these two wars. In the case of the cargo aircraft role, the USAF won.

At the direction of then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in 2009 the Air Force took over authority for the C-27J buy and control of the direct-support mission; service officials said they would combine the use of C-27Js and C-130s to provide cargo lift for the Army (though Army officials had long complained that C-130 support was inefficient owing to underloading of these larger aircraft).

Army officials say that in actuality, the CH-47 Chinook fleet has been unduly burdened in providing timely support because the helicopters are used to shuttle goods from C-130s that land at hubs to the remote locales where soldiers are stationed.

“The major rub to us is responsiveness and not efficiency,” says one Army official who requests anonymity. “When a part is needed at the front line, it flies” and shouldn’t have to wait for enough requests to fill a C-130, the official adds. “We are more about effectiveness than efficiency, and [the Air Force is] more about efficiency than effectiveness.”

So, the questions now are: What is the right number of small cargo-lifters for the direct-support role, and how should the mission be managed?

Though both branches agreed to USAF control of the mission in the 2009 pact, the Army is now insisting that language be added to clarify its needs—specifically emphasizing responsiveness, especially when parts or supplies are called for at forward-operating locations.

USAF Lt. Gen. Herbert Carlisle, deputy chief of staff for operations, acknowledges what he calls a “natural tension” for Army commanders wanting quick support.

The outcome of this deal will directly impact how soldiers at such sites are supported in Afghanistan.

Army officials had long argued that an Army officer must oversee this mission to ensure that its commanders’ needs take priority; the fear is that the USAF will de-emphasize Army unit requirements against the more strategic priorities of regional cargo movements. USAF, however, has long countered that it best knows how to provide airborne logistics support across a fleet of aircraft, including the C-27J, C-130 and C-17.

In 2009, the Air Force conducted a demonstration of the direct-support mission using C-27Js and C-130s in Iraq; this validated the service’s plans for a mix of the two for the mission.

Two C-27Js were deployed to Afghanistan in late July 2011 and quickly started flying operational direct support missions, Gen. Raymond Johns said last fall. The C-27Js are apportioned to Army officials there via Tacon (tactical control), although USAF pilots fly the missions, but the C-130s are not. This means the C-27Js are specifically set aside only for intratheater/direct-support missions under Army authority. Though C-130s are used for this mission, they can be reassigned elsewhere in the area, if needed, Johns said.

Army officials are less than satisfied with the Air Force’s delays in delivering C-27Js to the field. At least six were to be in Afghanistan by now, and why they have not been deployed is the “golden question,” the anonymous Army official said.

One industry official says the Army is “trying to hold the Air Force’s feet to the fire to do what they signed up for” in the 2009 pact.

Alenia has delivered 13 of 21 C-27Js on contract. Originally, Alenia officials projected the U.S. market for the C-27J (including Army/Air Force buys) to support as many as 125 aircraft. Tierney said that in 2005, the Army’s projections set a low risk of handling the mission with a fleet of 78 C-27Js and a moderate risk at 54. When Gates shifted the C-27J program from Army control to the Air Force, the buy shrank to 38 aircraft.

The sharp reduction in procurement numbers prompted Alenia to scrap its plans to open a final assembly facility in Florida; the aircraft are being delivered from a plant in Italy.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz indicated during a recent testimony to Congress that the C-27J faces termination—possibly before all 38 are delivered—due to fiscal pressure. Service officials contend that maintaining a separate fleet for this mission adds to its spending for unique training and logistics, whereas a C-130-based mission could build off of an existing infrastructure. It is unclear whether the service would keep the C-27Js already delivered or divest of them entirely.

Numerous lawmakers and governors associated with states slated to host C-27J Guard units have written to Schwartz, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter advocating the program. Some of them argue not only for the national security advantages of the aircraft but also note that without those units, jobs in their districts will be in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, Crutchfield notes that the Army’s C-23 Sherpas still support war operations. Without better direct support from USAF, the Army would have to pay $350 million to keep old C-23s operating, and they would still lack a pressurized cabin, Tierney says. Carlislie expects the updated pact to be signed in days.

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