The US Air Force’s 14 remaining Alenia Aermacchi C-27J Spartans will soon come out of mothballs.

The tactical transports, which were operated briefly by the service before being removed from use starting last year, will resume their flying for the US Coast Guard, under an aircraft swap directed by the US Defense Authorisation Bill for fiscal year 2014.

Signed by President Barack Obama on 26 December 2013, the bill directs US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to make the transfer after the coast guard transfers seven of its Lockheed Martin C-130s to the USAF. The air force must then convert these into tankers to be used by the US Forest Service.

The aircraft swap brings closure to open questions about the fate of the USAF’s remaining C-27Js, most of which are in storage at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona. The air force calls the base the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, but it informally goes by another name: the boneyard.

Unlike other aircraft resting at Davis-Monthan, the relatively-new C-27Js were not put out to pasture – they have been kept in flying condition while the Department of Defense decides their fate, says the USAF.

C-27J US Army - Alenia Aermacchi

Alenia Aermacchi

The US Army took delivery of the US government’s first C-27J in 2008, and planned to eventually acquire 54 of the type. In addition, the USAF intended to buy 24 of the aircraft, which are manufactured through the C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) programme – a partnership between Alenia and L-3 Communications. The latter outfits the aircraft with communications and other equipment.

The USAF, however, eventually took over all of the US military’s C-27J operations, then decided to divest the fleet due to FY2013 budget pressures. The service said the aircraft cost more money to operate during their lifespan than the equally-capable C-130.

The air force intended to dispose of its 38 aircraft, some of which were in service with the Air National Guard and some of which were still in production, according to reports.

The service began shipping C-27Js to storage in 2013, and transferred seven aircraft to the US Special Operations Command.

Most of the remaining 14 aircraft, all of which will go to the USCG, are parked at Davis-Monthan, but one remains at L-3’s facility in Waco, Texas, says the air force.

The USCG did not respond to a request for information about the transfers, but reports suggest that it wants the C-27Js to complement its retained fleet of C-130s. The maritime law enforcement service has been flying the Hercules since 1958, and currently has 24 HC-130Hs and six HC-130Js, its website says.