A plan to dramatically improve the US Army's fixed-wing airlift capability has prompted a high-level showdown with the US Air Force.

Army aviation officials contend they have an immediate need to replace 43 ageing Shorts C-23 Sherpas with much more capable aircraft for intra-theatre airlift. Candidates for the Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) programme include the Lockheed Martin/Alenia C-27J and the EADS Casa CN-235 and C-295.

The new fleet would release the army's CH-47 heavylift helicopter fleet from routine supply missions, says Gen Richard Cody, army vice- chief of staff. The army plans to buy 33 FCAs within its five-year budget cycle after a short competition, and wants to eventually buy as many as 125, says Brig Gen Jeffrey Schloesser, director army aviation task force.

Initial funding for FCA would come from money diverted from the cancelled Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche programme.

But the programme has stalled in senior-level reviews at the Pentagon, where a decision has been postponed since August because of new concerns from the USAF, which is traditionally responsible for major intra-theatre airlift missions, using the Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin C-130.

Paul Bogosian, army programme executive officer for aviation, says the debate in the Pentagon is focused on whether the FCA fleet is truly needed or "can an existing capability address a capability gap?".



Source: Flight International