MC-27J Gunship

The Alenia Aermacchi built C-27J is a modernized version of the Aeritalia G.222 light transport of the 1970s. The US acquisition program for the C-27J was an utter catastrophe, but the fact remains that it is a capable aircraft, and is generating quite a bit of interest in international sales.  One thing readers here might have noticed is that transport aircraft are inherently adaptable to other roles, either on a permanent basis, or through the use of palletized mission loads. In alliance with ATK Orbital, Alenia is developing as a private venture the MC-27J, which, while still capable as a tactical airlifter, can also be used to carry Hellfire missiles, and a ATK 30mm chain gun mounted on a roll-on/roll-off pallet.


C-27J to JFK

We’ve written the frustrating saga of the USAF knife in the back of the (originally) Army program to buy the C-27J light transport.

After successfully commandeering the program, the USAF quickly turned around and killed it, even as brand spanking new airframes are still rolling off the production line in Italy.  These planes are being delivered directly to storage at Davis-Monthan AFB where they’ll join the rest of the fleet in long term storage.

Or will they?

Defense Industry Daily says that Special Operations Command (SOCOM) wants seven Spartans to replace their current fleet of CASA C.212 aircraft for training purposes.

SOCOM is a joint command, albeit very heavily biased toward the Army. In essence they’re their own separate armed force, with their own budget authority, and a history of noted disdain to parochial games, even while excelling at them.

Alenia C-27J Spartan aircraft picture

The Coast Guard has already stated they’d love to have  the entire production run of C-27Js to convert them to medium range maritime patrol aircraft.* But a quirk of US law says the Air Force can’t give them to the USCG ( part of DHS) unless there are no military takers for them. Obviously, SOCOM, as a DoD entity, would have first call on the Spartans. And so, it’s highly likely the John F. Kennedy Center and School will add 7 Spartans to its fleet.

Now, SOCOM says the C-27Js would be for training. And I’m sure they would be. But unlike the aircraft already in the SOCOM fleet, the Spartans are combat ready aircraft with radar and missile warning systems, and chaff and IR flare dispensers. It would not be terribly surprising if some “training” aircraft found themselves in “exigent” circumstances deployed to support “urgent” operational needs, in effect giving SOCOM its own tactical transport fleet, and reducing the reliance on USAF and TRANSCOM for airlift.

That’s pure speculation on our part. What say you?

*Even as the USCG is buying another foreign built twin engine turbo-prop for the role, the HC-144 Ocean Sentry based on the EADS CN-235.

C-27Js to mothballs

Well, we knew the Air Force’s primary aim in involving themselves in the C-27J Spartan airlifter program was to deny the Army any fixed wing intra-theater air. And they’ve succeeded.

But of course, that’s only after they’d signed a $2bn or so contract for the airplanes. And since they’ve been bought, they’re being delivered. But since the Air Force won’t operate them, they’re putting brand spanking new airframes into storage at Davis-Monthan.

The Pentagon is sending $50 million cargo planes straight from the assembly line to mothballs because it has no use for them, yet it still hasn’t stopped ordering the aircraft, according to a report.

A dozen nearly new Italian-built C-27J Spartans have been shipped to an Air Force facility in Arizona dubbed “the boneyard,” and five more currently under construction are likely headed for the same fate, according to an investigation by the Dayton Daily News.  The Air Force has spent $567 million on 21 of the planes since 2007, according to purchasing officials at Dayton’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Of those, 16 have been delivered – with almost all sent directly to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, where some 4,400 aircraft and 13 aerospace vehicles, with a total value of more than $35 billion, sit unused.

The C-27J has the unique capability of taking off and landing on crude runways, Ethan Rosenkranz, national security analyst at the Project on Government Oversight, told the newspaper. But with sequestration dictating Pentagon cuts, the planes were deemed a luxury it couldn’t afford.


At this point, it’s too far gone for the Army to find the troop strength and aviator numbers to field the force.  And the Air Force almost certainly can’t sell them to private users or foreign governments, because the manufacturer, Alenia Aermacchi, has stated publicly they will boycott spares and support to anyone who buys these airframes. They don’t want the potential markets to buy used what they could be building new.

So most likely, other, non-DoD departments of the government will end up with them. Already there’s word the Coast Guard and the Forest Service will end up with some, and I heard today one in State Department markings has been spotted.

But the Army still doesn’t have the airlift it needed, and still needs, when it first selected the Spartan almost a decade ago.

Gunship Lite

We talked about the evolution of the gunship earlier. Now comes news of the next step in the evolutionary chain.

The AC-130U is pretty much what the Air Force wants in a gunship. The only drawback really, is the cost. They run about $190 million each. That means the Air Force cannot buy a whole lot of them. The folks at Special Operations Command (SOCOM) see a need for more gunships, but admit that they don’t always need the whole AC-130 package. The proposed compromise is to convert a smaller transport into a less capable, but less costly gunship. The idea is to use the “new” C-27J as the base of this gunship.

I put the “new” in quotations because it is a new airplane… sorta. The C-27J Spartan is based on the Italian G.222 transport from the 1960s. But much like the C-130 was “rebooted” as the C-130J with new engines and avionics, the Spartan has been updated to the point where it is pretty much a new type. New engines, propellers and avionics make the Spartan far more capable than previous versions.

The US never operated the G.222, but recently has been searching for a robust small transport to move priority cargo and personnel. The C-27J fits the bill. It can get into and out of very small airstrips while still carrying a useful load. It can’t carry nearly as much as a C-130, but it costs much less and will be cheaper to operate. It won’t replace the Herk, but will fill a niche role in support of outposts and some special operation forces. In fact, both the Army and the Air Force will purchase and operate Spartans.  While the Gunship Lite idea is just getting started, the Spartan has been on the market for a while now, and is enjoying considerable sales success with our allies.


Correction: The Air Force bought 10 G.222s and renamed them C-27A, using them to support operations in Panama and South/Central America.