Lockheed Martin has formally protested the US Army's exclusion of its C-130J Hercules from the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) competition, arguing its design should not be eliminated before the US Air Force's requirements are incorporated into the programme.
The company wants a stay of any contract award until the Government Accountability Office has completed a 100-day review, but the US Army says it can proceed with a flight evaluation of the two aircraft remaining in the competition, the Alenia Aeronautica C-27J and EADS Casa C-295.
A downselect is due in March 2007, and Lockheed's protest could tip the balance in Congress towards delaying the JCA programme by at least a year to give the USAF time to define its requirements. The Senate has already zeroed the programme for 2007, but the House has provided funds, meaning the issue will be decided in conference.
According to Lockheed, the US Army ruled the C-130J did not meet two "entry gate" criteria for JCA requiring US Federal Aviation Administration certification of the baseline aircraft and CNS/ATM capability in a certain timeframe. "The army would not accept US Air Force certification of the J," says Rob Weiss, vice-president, aeronautics business development.
|Lockheed Martin wants a chance to demonstrate the C-130J's capabilities|
Weiss says Lockheed's baseline 382J has FAA certification, while the military modifications to produce the C-130J have been qualified by the US Air Force, Navy and international customers. "We do not understand why the army will accept foreign certification for competing aircraft, but not accept air force certification," he says.
Lockheed wants the C-130J re-instated, and a chance to demonstrate its capabilities. "A decision to eliminate a platform at this stage is inconsistent with the [Department of Defense] directive for a joint programme," says Weiss. It is expected to be several months before USAF requirements are fully defined.