The US Army has accelerated a decision on its $1.3 billion Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA) programme by six months to June 2006, say industry sources.

“We understand the army would like to accelerate the schedule due to the shortcomings of the [Shorts C-23B] Sherpa and the needs of the National Guard realised today in [combat operations] and homeland defence,” says Global Military Aircraft Systems, which is offering the Alenia C-27J in a joint venture between the Italian company and L-3 Communications.

Speeding up the replacement of its ageing Sherpas may be only one of the army’s motives, however. Awarding the contract next June instead of in January 2007 will also help to protect the programme’s funding stream, because making an award in the middle of fiscal year 2006 would create a contractual obligation before the start of the next fiscal year.

The army’s overall plan is to buy up to 30 fixed-wing cargo aircraft to replace the National Guard’s fleet of 43 C-23Bs. The service plans to make an initial award next June for the engineering and services portion of the contract, with the winning company also expecting a follow-on order for production aircraft.

Competing against the C-27J is the Raytheon/EADS North America team offering EADS Casa’s CN-235 and C-295, or a combination of both platforms.

Boeing has also expressed interest in joining the competition, recently naming the McDonnell Douglas YC-15 prototype jet airlifter as a potential candidate in an industry forum with army officials.

Bell-Boeing has also inquired about the army’s interest in a tiltrotor offering, although the service currently requires only a short take-off and landing capability under the FCA programme.

The army hosted an industry day on 2 September after releasing a draft version of its request for proposals last month. Raytheon FCA programme manager Jim Hvizd says he came away from the army briefing encouraged for the prospects of his team’s CN-235/C-295 proposal.


Source: Flight International