Two Lockheed Martin C-130s will deploy to Iraq in October to pose as surrogate platforms for a bitter rival in the airlifter market - the L-3 Communications/Alenia Aeronautica C-27J.

The Ohio National Guard C-130s will provide the first test of the proposed "direct support" mission in Iraq, assigning for the first time the two USAF airlifters to a US Army brigade commander, rather than having them scheduled through a centrally planned transportation network, says Gen Arthur Lichte, chief of Air Mobility Command.

The mission allows a brigade commander to move small amounts of cargo at will, a task currently performed by the army's smaller Shorts C-23B Sherpas. It was this concept that drove the army to launch the Future Cargo Aircraft programme in 2004. The goal was to replace the army's 44 C-23Bs, and also expand the fleet to 78 aircraft.

 C-27J US - L-3 Communications
© L-3 Communications Integrated Systems
The C-27J is expected to deliver 'direct support' to US Army units

After the USAF joined the programme in 2005, the name changed to the Joint Cargo Aircraft programme. The selection of the C-27J in June 2007 quickly led to a new dispute with USAF officials over whether the C-130J could be more effective. The Department of Defense slashed the planned order from 78 to a minimum of 38 aircraft earlier this year. The DoD also transferred budget authority for the JCA from the army to the USAF.

L-3 and Alenia, meanwhile, are continuing to prepare the first two C-27Js delivered to the DoD for maiden deployment in August 2010.

Lead image - C130 © Lockheed Martin

Source: Flight International