Spartan Shenanigans, Or how the C-27J program is history repeating itself.

Way back in October, Craig posted about the Army’s CV-2/C-7 Caribou fleet and how the Air Force took that program away just as it was proving its worth in Vietnam.

Fast forward forty years, to 2005. The Army, dissatisfied with Air Force airlift inside theaters of operations (especially Iraq and Afghanistan, but to some extent also in places like South America), decided to open a competition for a Light Cargo Aircraft, or LCA. They eventually selected the L-3/Alenia C-27J Spartan.


The C-27J Spartan is an modernized version of the Alenia G.222 short haul airlifter.  The basic G.222 airframe has been updated with the modern Rolls Royce AE2100 engines with improved six-bladed props, giving it greater fuel efficiency and a higher cruise speed. The avionics have also been updated to modern “glass cockpit” standards.

The Army was pretty pleased. Big enough to carry a useful load, capable of airdropping personnel and supplies, and yet small enough to operate right up to the front lines, the Spartan was just the thing to replace the Army’s aging fleet of C-23 Sherpas, C-26 Metroliners, and some C-12 Hurons. It would also ease some of the strain on the CH-47 Chinook fleet, freeing those critical assets to support those places that couldn’t be serviced by fixed wing aircraft.  So far, so good.

But right about the time the Army started making progress on this major acquisition program, the  then Chief of Staff of the Air Force, GEN T. Michael Moseley, announced that hey! the Air Force also wanted to start a competition for a new light cargo plane. Not surprisingly, their requirements were awfully similar to the Army’s. And not surprisingly, in a cost-saving measure, the DoD directed the services to combine the competition and seek procurement of one type of aircraft. The Joint Cargo Aircraft was born, and it was something of a given that the C-27J would be selected. It was, and in 2007, a $2 billion dollar contract for 78 planes was signed. Deliveries began the next year.

Of the first contract for 78 aircraft, 40 were supposed to go to the Army (actually, various Army National Guard units) and the remainder to the Air Force (again, actually to various Air National Guard units). But almost immediately, the Air Force began lobbying for control of the entire fleet, under the rationale that a single manager made more sense.  The Army struggled to maintain control of its slice of the program, but in 2009 lost, and the Air Force gained control of the entire program.  Not only did they seize control of the program, the promptly cut the buy to 38 aircraft. Later, the contract was trimmed again to 21 aircraft. The Air Force story was they would make up the shortfall by more closely integrating C-130 operations to support the Army.

Now comes news the Air Force is considering terminating the program early. Only 13 aircraft have been delivered so far. Alenia has scrapped plans to build a final assembly plant here in the US.

So once again, the Army, who had hoped to buy as many as 125 Spartans, gets hosed by the Air Force.

The Army and the Air Force look at the in-theater airlift mission from different perspectives.  The Air Force is into centralized planning and control. From the Air Forces earliest days, they learned the lesson that the greatest way to leverage airpower’s inherent flexibility is to operate under centralized control. With limited airlifters, and global airlift responsibilities, centralized planning for airlift makes sense. Every AF airlift mission is tasked and monitored at Scott AFB, in Illinois (Hi, Phat!).

But the Army isn’t concerned about worldwide airlift. Theater commanders (and their deputies for logistics) are more concerned with having an asset at hand that can fulfill mission critical/time critical airlift right now in support of ground forces.

The operational paradigm is likely different as well. Rather than deploying a squadron of airlifters to theater for six months, individual airlifters would deploy on specific mission sets, being tasked via Scott AFB in response to requests from within the theater, and eventually returning home.

The Army, on the other hand, would likely activate a National Guard battalion of Spartans, deploy them in theater for six months to a year, ride ‘em hard and put ‘em away wet, and then redeploy the battalion stateside, to be replaced by another battalion in rotation. That way, there would be a half dozen or so airlifters on scene to handle any “hot potatoes” that crop up.

Differences in operational philosophies aside, it’s been clear for several years the Air Force has been acting in bad faith from the start. Every step of the way, they’ve shown their entire purpose in involving themselves in the C-27J program has been calculated means of denying the Army access to the aircraft. Shame of the Air Force.

12 thoughts on “Spartan Shenanigans, Or how the C-27J program is history repeating itself.”

  1. Thems the same guys who promised the ground attack/interdiction/CAS missions to you as a part of Air-Land Battle Doctrine!!!

    Don’t look now, but the Navy is getting under the same covers with them, too! Wait’ll THEY get the bait-and-switch without having a Plan B….

    Gawd, you gotta love the Air Force. Most patriotic civilians I know.

  2. For over sixty years, the brass of the Air Force has concentrated on two enemies: The Army and the Navy/Marines. What is best for the country makes no difference to them.

  3. This was going on way back during ‘Nam when I actually flew in the Army’s air fleet.
    Boy how the Air Force hated those guys.
    I actually preferred Army pilots as they’d drop those things into places that caused Air Force weenies to wet their undies.

  4. It all goes back to Key West when you Army guys bought the soft soap the Air Force was selling. They gave you guys the old “Trust us!” crap and you bought it hook line and sinker. It’s just amazing that you pulled the armed helo project off, and think of where you’d be without that little thing. Of course, as long as the Air Force has the job of flying the President around and all those assholes in Congress back and forth to their districts you’ll never get a leg up in this game. Now granted, there are some awesome Air Force pilots…but by the time they pin stars on, they are fully indoctrinated into the program of “Screw the army, they don’t need fixed wing, we’ll do it for them”

  5. Frankly the AF is run by scum bags when it comes to the Tactical support mission. If I were the Army I’d be getting the ANG types involved in this and start busting a few congresscritter doors down and really put pressure on the AF on this matter.

    back in the 50s Curtis LeMay, CG of SAC at the time, told a SAC staffer that the Soviet Union was not the enemy, they were the opponent. The Navy was the enemy. LeMay had the support of Eisenhower because of the nuke mission. It hurt the AF when Vietnam rolled around as they did not have the TacAir type AC they needed to fight the war. But that’s another rabbit to run later.

    The AF got used to having things their own way because of the support for SAC. It poisoned the AF in many ways when a SAC GO ended up as commander of TAC, which hurt TAC immensely, and I don’t mean feelings either. I’m not sure AF has recovered from the problem either. They are just as duplicitous when it comes to what they see as their bailiwick and someone needs to jerk a knot in their tail. Frankly, they need, and deserve to be, broken up with all TACAir turned over to the Army and Strategic Command, combined with the Air Superiority mission, broken off as a separate service. The C-130 and 27s would go to the Army and the AF could tend to their knitting, the knitting they actually want to tend to. They wouldn’t like it, however, in the long run as they’d get to play their game only in case of a major war. I’d just cry a river for them as it’s what they’ve been asking for these long years.

  6. Well it makes sense in a way. Does the AF really need anyone with a rifle? I mean it would make more sense to centralize all policing and security under Army control, it would save money, the results would be obvious in mere days.


  7. The notion of inter-theater operations was what everyone wanted but that was before the military (again) became the “bill payer” for a recessed/depressed U.S. economy. The “Air Farce” only bullied into the C-27J program as it became a saving grace of sorts given the legendary cost & mission prep factors attributed to C-130’s/C-17’s. Oh they “say” they will support the Army in a primary configuration with the C-17J and I’ll wait on my lubricant as well. Army arms and legs can fly just as well as AF arms and legs…sometimes better and with more “testicular fortitude”.

  8. …and isn’t it funny that the C-23 Sherpa program was originally a single mission AIR FORCE idea to fly F-16/15 engines into and out of damaged European airbases. Cold war “ended” and they (AF) shoveled the Sherpa to the Army (Guard) and the Army made a relative success with it doing, you guessed it, inter-theatre operations. Sorry about the typo on last missive….of course I meant C-27J not C-17J.

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