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.