Contractors issue new JCA proposals

Farnborough Air Show » 2006
November 15, 2006, 10:30 AM

Following a memorandum of agreement between the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army in early June, Lockheed Martin, Global Military Aircraft Systems (GMAS) and Team JCA this month are submitting revised proposals for the Pentagon’s Joint Cargo Aircraft requirement. Initial proposals were for a new tactical airlifter that will replace the U.S. Army’s 30-troop C-23 Sherpa fleet (plus Fairchild C-26s and some of the Raytheon C-12 fleet) and add a new battlefield/homeland defense mobility capability to the USAF.

The MOA spelled out an initial requirement for 70 aircraft for the Army and a follow-on 75 for the Air Force. Total requirements could reach 207 in a program that could stretch until at least 2017.

The JCA was born out of the Army’s Future Cargo Aircraft program, originally known as CX-X, which sought to redress problems encountered with the C-23 during operations in Afghanistan. It was there that the Sherpa’s unpressurized cabin and low payload capacity were exposed, forcing the service to use CH-47 helicopters for many airlift missions.

The Army launched the FCA program to find an intratheater airlifter that could easily handle the expected tasks, reducing the burden on the CH-47 fleet. Its requirements for the aircraft included air-drop, casualty evacuation and resupply to the front line, as well as humanitarian and homeland security duties. In the battlefield resupply mission the FCA was expected to carry men and materiel forward from intermediate staging posts, either to a forward operating base or straight to the Brigade Combat Team in the field. This requires short takeoff/landing and rough-field capabilities, and comprehensive defensive equipment to allow it to operate in hot airspace.

USAF Light

Meanwhile, last year the USAF announced its own plans for a Light Cargo Aircraft (LCA), again in response to intratheater transport difficulties encountered during deployed operations. The LCA was also intended to support homeland security and humanitarian operations, the latter in response to the dif-ficulties encountered in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

As both FCA and LCA were seeking similar types of aircraft, the Army and USAF signed a memorandum of understanding last February 1 to consolidate the two programs, and on March 1 the new program was renamed JCA.

Lockheed Martin is proposing its short-fuselage C-130J, citing the type’s four-engine safety, good range/payload characteristics, systems commonality and low development risk as key factors. The type is also combat-proven. However, the aircraft is larger and more expensive to operate than its competitors.

GMAS is a 50/50 partnership of L-3 Communications Integrated Systems and Alenia Aeronautica, and is proposing the 46-troop C-27J. The two combined earlier (when L-3 IS was Chrysler Technologies Airborne Systems) to provide 10 Alenia C-27As to the USAF. However, to market the upgraded C-27J, Alenia teamed for a while with Lockheed Martin.

Now Alenia has returned to its former partner for the JCA competition. The C-27J has the same Rolls-Royce AE2100 engines and glass cockpit as the C-130J, and offers excellent rough-field STOL characteristics.

Team JCA partners Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems business unit with EADS-CASA, and is offering the 51-troop CN-235 and 71-troop C-295. The team points to the large cabins of each type–the CN-235 can take three 463-L pallets on the cabin floor and another on the rear ramp, while the C-295 can carry a total of five.

At 39.6 feet, the cabin floor length of the C-295 is equal to that of the C-130, while the CN-235 has a cabin length of 29.5 feet, slightly longer than that of the C-23B. Raytheon points out that the C-27J’s floor is slightly shorter than that of the C-23, although it has a higher overall payload capacity than either of the CASA offerings.

Alenia also stresses the robustness of its design, a prime consideration for short-rough-field operations.

Team JCA’s two proposals are based on single types, the CN-235 offering a low-cost option to the larger C-295. However, it would be possible to mix both types in one solution if that were appropriate. To answer the “Buy American” critics, assembly would be undertaken in Mobile, Alabama, and more than 50 percent of the aircraft would be U.S.-built.

Entry Gate

To proceed through the program’s entry gate, the teams have to offer designs certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (to allow the aircraft to fly in civil airspace) and demonstrate the production capacity for 11 aircraft per year, as well as compliance with technical performance requirements. A detailed evaluation and early user survey is scheduled to be undertaken after the entry gate qualifications have been met, with aircraft being demonstrated against the proposals during the late summer.

The results of an initial analysis by the Army are expected around next July 2. Under the revised program, the first deliveries are scheduled for 2010, two years later than originally planned.

Some analysts have doubted that the JCA program will go ahead, describing it as an interservice turf war. Furthermore, the non-U.S. provenance of the EADS and Alenia designs will make it that much harder to get them accepted at a time when the C-17 and C-130 production lines are facing termination. The June interservice MOA, however, has restored some faith in the future of the JCA, and the teams are confident that the previously shelved U.S. Army funding will be reinstated.

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