The Royal Australian Air Force has awarded its new Alenia C-27J Spartan tactical transports with initial operating capability.

The RAAF has received four examples of a total order for 10 aircraft, says Australian defence minister Marise Payne in a statement.

“The Spartan can access airfields that are unable to support larger transport aircraft, thus increasing the reach for Defence when supporting communities across Australia and throughout the Asia-Pacific region,” says Payne.

“The Spartan can now be tasked on missions to transport 40 passengers or three military pallets of cargo, as well as fulfill roles such as light equipment airdrop.”

Air marshal Leo Davies adds that the type sits between the RAAF’s larger Lockheed Martin C-130Js, and the Army's Boeing CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter.

In May 2012, Australia placed an order for ten C-27Js through the US government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme.

Produced by Alenia in Italy, RAAF C-27Js are delivered in a green condition to L-3 in Waco, Texas, where they are converted to the Joint Cargo Aircraft configuration. L-3 also provides crew and maintenance training.

The work takes three months, and involves fitting an electronic warfare and infrared countermeasures suite, US-standard communications equipment and ballistic matting around the cockpit and loadmaster’s station.

The C-27J succeeds the de Havilland Canada DHC-4 Caribou aircraft under the AIR 8000 Phase 2 requirement. Although popular with the RAAF, the obsolescent Caribou was retired in 2009. The C-27J's rival for the requirement was the Airbus Military C-295.

One concern with the Caribou had been its inability to operate in hostile airspace, due to its lack of self-protection equipment.