Contender for US Army medium transport need steps up war of words on competitor

The reliability and safety record of the Alenia C-27J is under new attack by its only known competitor for a $1.3 billion US Army contract for up to 33 medium transports. The Raytheon/EADS North America team offering the EADS Casa CN-235 and C-295 has brought forward ex-maintainers of Alenia aircraft to present its case, which was unveiled publicly last week at the Association of the US Army’s annual meeting.

Their critique is mainly aimed at resurrecting the known shortcomings of the forerunners of the C-27J being offered to the US Army – the Alenia C-27A and G222 – and then questioning whether the C-27J has been tested enough to know if the fixes are working.

The Global Military Aircraft Systems (GMAS) team offering the C-27J for the Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) programme both dismisses the attack and claims its competitor’s aircraft types are not able to meet the army’s requirements. GMAS is a joint venture by Alenia and L-3 Communications, with Lockheed Martin involved as a subcontractor. The dispute unfolds at a critical time for the FCA programme. Both competitors say the army is scheduled to issue a request for proposals around 15 October.

FCA is intended to replace 43 Shorts C-23A/B Sherpas used by the Army National Guard, as well as other army fixed-wing cargo fleets. However, both teams are counting on follow-on contracts from the army, US Special Operations and the US Air Force, which has recently stated a desire for a light cargo aircraft about half the size of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules.

As for the case against theC-27J, the Raytheon/EADS team says the aircraft lacks sufficient operating hours to prove that it has overcome numerous deficiencies identified in the original design. The US Air Force grounded the C-27A fleet in the mid-1990s due to cracks found on the vertical stabiliser, says Raytheon. Avionics and engine problems also made the C-27A unreliable in the field, it says.

In addition, the C-27A landing gear design was complicated and unsafe for maintainers, says Sean Bornheimer, a Raytheon manager who previously maintained the C-27A for the USAF. However, a senior GMAS executive says the structural, landing gear, avionics and propulsion deficiencies of the C-27A were corrected and certificated for a 25-year lifespan on the J-model by 2001.



Source: Flight International