The C-27J Spartan twin turboprop, selected by the U.S. Army in 2007 to provide intra-theater airlift support in austere environments such as Afghanistan and shifted to Air Force jurisdiction two years later, now faces early retirement to the aircraft “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona.
In a January 27 briefing, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said the service is considering either storing the medium-lift turboprops in a “recoverable” condition at Davis-Monthan AFB or making them available for spare parts. Manufacturer Alenia Aeronautica has delivered 13 of the 21 C-27Js under contract. The requirement was for 38 aircraft.
The C-27J has fallen victim to the Department of Defense effort to reduce spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years. “The C-27J was developed and procured to provide a niche capability to directly support Army urgent needs in difficult environments such as Afghanistan, where we thought the C-130 might not be able to operate effectively,” the Pentagon stated in a January 26 document summarizing budget priorities. “However, in practice, we did not experience the anticipated airfield constraints for C-130 operations in Afghanistan and expect these constraints to be marginal in future scenarios. Since we have ample inventory of C-130s and the current cost to own and operate them is lower, we no longer need nor can we afford a niche capability like the C-27J.”
The Army and Air Force were directed to “establish joint doctrine relating to direct support,” the Pentagon said. In a separate briefing January 27, Gen. Raymond Odierno, Army chief of staff, said he had signed a memorandum of understanding with the Air Force that same morning.
The U.S. termination of the C-27J likely will affect an Australian Defense Force requirement for 10 airlifters to replace retired DHC-4 Caribous and soon-to-be-retired C-130Hs. The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress on December 19 of a potential foreign military sale to Australia of 10 C-27Js in a transaction valued at $950 million. Australia is evaluating the C-27J and the Airbus Military C-295. Australian defense minister Stephen Smith said the U.S. decision would obviously affect the choice.