A long-delayed plan to buy 33 light transports for the US Army appeared poised to move forward by end-year with the release of a request for proposals (RFP) that will revive a competition between the Italian-US C-27J and the Spanish C-295/CN-235.
Both contracting teams – Alenia/ L-3 Communications joint venture Global Military Aircraft Systems (GMAS) offering the C-27J, and the C-295/CN-235’s Raytheon/EADS Casa team – were told by the army to expect RFP release for the Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) programme on 22 December.
The RFP had been delayed several times since October 2005 as Department of Defense and US Air Force officials grappled with the army’s demands for both a near-term replacement for its Shorts C-23 Sherpa fleet and a long-term need for a more responsive intra-theatre airlift capability.
USAF leaders appear to back a plan that allows the FCA programme to replace the Army National Guard’s C-23 fleet, while simultaneously launching a follow-on Light Cargo Aircraft (LCA) programme that is likely to call for a different aircraft type. “I’d say I’m partnering with the army on this,” says Gen Michael Moseley, USAF chief of staff.
“While the Sherpa replacement is valid for them, what do you do in the future on a non-linear battlefield, how do you survive the threat array and how do you get at the resupply of those forces? I know what I would have done with something like this in Afghanistan and Iraq, but I don’t know that that’s the conclusion for 20 years from now.”
Moseley’s remarks appear to plant the seed for a new-start LCA programme in the future.
“We have looked at vertical lift, fixed wing and a variety of things and we have also spent a lot of time with them [the army] looking at something that is beyond just a Sherpa replacement,” he says.
Secretary of the air force Michael Wynne says the USAF considers FCA and the potential LCA as a replacement not only for the Sherpa, but also for the Vietnam-era Fairchild C-123 Provider transport, which the air force phased out with no replacement.
Meanwhile, GMAS has confirmed that Boeing will not be part of its bid team for FCA.
STEPHEN TRIMBLE/WASHINGTON DC