Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Air Guard Readies for C-27J Fleet

By Air Force Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, Special to American Forces Press Service

The Air National Guard, for the first time, will be the sole operator of a new aircraft straight off the assembly line when it starts operations with C-27J Spartan cargo planes.

The Spartan, the latest propeller-driven airlifter, is an "extremely rugged" aircraft designed for austere environments, Air Force officials said. It is about half the size of a C-130, with 3.5 cargo pallet positions.

"It is the first time in U.S. Air Force history where the service acquired a new airframe solely owned, operated and maintained by the Air National Guard," said Air Force Lt. Col. Chris Beckman, the Air Guard's aviation planning and execution chief.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates moved the C-27J program and its related direct support mission from the Army to the Air Force in April. The Army chief of staff, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., supported Gates' decision. "We need the capability to resupply our forces," he said. "We do not have to fly the planes to get that." Flying fixed-wing aircraft is not an Army core competency, the general added.

Since that time, the Air Force's Air Mobility Command and the Air National Guard have taken a serious approach to building the program, officials said.

"Making a switch like this is no small affair, especially at this phase in the acquisition process," said Air Force Lt. Col. Gene Capone, Air Mobility Command's C-27J test manager at the Joint Program Office.

Capone added that the Army lost its fiscal 2010 funding for the C-27J due to the change, so the Air Force will fund the Army's completion of the multiservice testing and evaluation.

Air National Guard pilots and loadmasters from the 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield, Ohio, and the 175th Wing in Baltimore will be the first operational C-27J crews to be trained and deployed, and are critical participants in testing and evaluation, Beckman said. The testing and evaluation, scheduled for April, will determine if the C-27J program is ready for deployment and domestic operations, he added.

Two Army National Guard units, Company H, 171st Aviation Regiment, from Georgia and 1st Battalion, 245th Airfield Operations Battalion, from Oklahoma also will participate in the testing and evaluation.

In addition to aircraft in Mansfield and Baltimore, the Air Force will field C-27J's at units in Fargo, N.D.; Bradley Air Field, Conn.; Battle Creek, Mich.; and Meridian, Miss.

"The [Air National Guard] has played a critical role in the development of the C-27J roadmap, to include basing, personnel, aircraft delivery, Air Force instruction and technical order development and review, service transfer and planning for operational execution," Beckman said.

To prove the direct-support concept for transporting time-sensitive and mission-critical Army payloads, the 179th Airlift Wing is leading a test that began several months ago. Following predeployment training and integration with an Army combat aviation brigade, the unit's C-130s recently deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"All of this is being done well within the new current execution model of 24 months that all of our forces now live in," Beckman said. "For example, we are already looking at mobilization packages, and have not yet seen a tail or trained crew."