The Royal Australian Air Force is gradually increasing the capabilities of its new Alenia C-27J Spartan tactical transports, and looking at options for training crews and upgrading aircraft systems.
The C-27J in RAAF service made its debut at this year’s air show. The RAAF has received four aircraft, and will have its full fleet of 10 by the end of 2017 or early 2018.
Air Commodore Richard Lennon, who heads the RAAF’s Air Mobility Group, says the C-27J’s ability to accommodate aircraft cargo containers was a key aspect in the aircraft’s selection.
During operations near the front lilnes, containers can be unloaded from a Boeing C-17 or Lockheed Martin C-130J and transferred to the smaller C-27J without the need for repacking. The C-27J can then operate to more austere airfields that are not easily accessed by the larger types.
The aircraft received initial operating capability in December 2016, with final operational capability expected in 2019.
“Some people regard the C-27J as a miniature Hercules,” says Lennon, referring to the C-27J’s similarity to the C-130J. “I prefer to think about it as a fixed wing Chinook helicopter.”
He says that operating a large twin-engined cargo transport is somewhat of a new area for the RAAF, given that its de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribous were retired some years ago. Several pilots have been drawn from the RAAF’s Beechcraft King Air community, bringing essential knowledge of the nuances with operating twin turboprops.
Apart from the aircraft’s military mission, the ability to easily transfer pallets will be very useful when the RAAF ferries humanitarian supplies after a natural disaster, says Wing Cdr Jarrod Pendelburg, commander of 35 Sqn.
Pendelburg has experience both in the C-17 and C-130J. He says that of the three aircraft, the C-27J is the “most forgiving” in terms of landing on challenging surfaces.
So far, C-27Js have operated to smaller airstrips around Australia. In future, they will also be tasked for flights in the South Pacific and Papua New Guinea.
Air Commodore Philip Tanmen, an an Air Force capability planner, says that the RAAF wants to work with Alenia on a core avionics upgrade for the aircraft in the next ten years. A more immediate priority is upgrading the aircraft identification friend or foe (IFF) equipment for seamless use on the modern battlefield.
“This aircraft will need to operate on the modern battlefield and communicate with all the players,” he says.
Studies are also underway to assess the aircraft’s long-term durability.
“There is a small fleet of C-27Js globally,” says Tanmen. “It’s important that we work with the manufacturer and other partners to achieve as much commonality as possible.”