Alenia is discussing with the US Air Force a potential self-protection system upgrade for the 18 ex-Italian air force G222s being acquired by the USA for the Afghanistan National Army Air Corps.
Alenia North America chief executive Giuseppe Giordo says the $287 million contract signed in late September only includes supplying refurbished tactical transports in standard configuration, but that additional funds could become available in the USAF's fiscal year 2009 budget for a new self-defence system.
Giordo says Alenia and the USAF have begun "discussing potential defence systems that we can integrate on the aircraft," but that a decision on the proposed upgrade cannot be made until the service's 2009 budget is approved by Congress. "We will have to see how much funds are available in fiscal 2009 for these upgrade capabilities," he says.
© APG photography
One option would be an electronic self-protection suite similar to that integrated by Alenia with the C-27Js being acquired as part of the US Joint Cargo Aircraft programme.
Alenia North America's vice-president of the Afghanistan programme Andrew McCawley says the G222s are already equipped with basic defence systems, but that new systems are a natural growth area for the platform. He says studies on which types of systems are feasible will be completed within the next few months, and that a decision on whether to proceed with the upgrade is expected in the second quarter of 2009.
Alenia plans to redeliver the first G222 in September 2009, and McCarthy says deliveries will continue "at regular intervals" until mid-2011. The aircraft will be refurbished at Alenia's maintenance facility in Naples and delivered in a standard upgraded configuration similar to the G222s that Alenia is now refurbishing for the Nigerian air force.
Giordo says the only difference between the Afghan and Nigerian aircraft, the first of three of which was redelivered earlier this year with the last to follow in 2009, will be the communication system and possibly the self-defence system. McCawley says Alenia sister company Selex is supplying new USAF-specification radios for Afghanistan's G222s, which will be used to give the nation an independent transport capability. Alenia will also supplying two kits to allow the aircraft to be configured for VIP and presidential transport. The fleet will be based in the Afghan capital Kabul, but also "is sustainable at forward bases", says McCawley.
The USAF is sponsoring training for the Afghan crews, and the first cadre has already received English-language training in Afghanistan and will soon begin training in the USA. Alenia is also translating G222 technical manuals to facilitate in-country maintenance.
Giordo says the aircraft, which Alenia took back in 2005 as part of its sale of 12 C-27Js to Italy, will be delivered in "near new" configuration, with conservative estimates suggesting that there are at least 10,000 flight hours or 10 years of life left in the aircraft. Formally announced on 1 October, the Afghan deal reduces Alenia's surplus G222 inventory to eight aircraft.