From Solution to Scrapheap: The Afghan AF’s C-27A TransportsJan 16, 2013 13:00 UTC by Defense Industry Daily staff
The ultimate goal for Afghanistan’s air force is the ability to support the Afghan National Army against al-Qaeda/ Taliban elements that launch raids within the country, or from across the border with Pakistan. Given Afghanistan’s rugged terrain and sparse infrastructure, however, a decision has been made to make tactical transportation of troops and supplies the Afghanistan National Army Air Corps’ top priority.
That explains US NAVAIR’s efforts to buy more Ukrainian AN-32s, which offered familiar technology, even though the spares situation is less than ideal. On top of that, a 3-way deal was made with Italy to send 20 of its Alenia G.222 (C-27A) light transports to Afghanistan, under a refurbishment program conducted by Alenia North America.
The ANAAF’s C-27A Program
The program ended very badly, but the initial idea seemed sensible.
In 2008, the Afghanistan National Army Air Corps (which became the Afghan National Army Air Force in June 2010) was still just getting to its feet, with a handful of AN-32/AN-26 light transport aircraft, Mi-17 assault transport and Mi-35 attack helicopters combined, and just 3 L-39 trainer/ light attack aircraft in questionable condition. Many of its pilots were older men, and the air force had not graduated a new pilot since 1992. In response, an 8-year plan was drawn up to begin training a new crop of pilots, and expand the air force.
As of September 2010, the Afghan Air Force stood at about 4,000 personnel, with the goal of expanding to 8,000. Machines include 27 Mi-17s and 8 Mi-35 helicopters, and 4 AN-32 transports. The AN-32s will be phased out of service by year-end 2010, however, due to airframe serviceability and lifespan issues.
With the AN-32s headed out the door, the Afghan C-27A program becomes the critical link in the AAF’s transport plans. The program currently includes 20 aircraft in a standardized operational configuration, as well as modules to convert 2 aircraft to a VIP Transport configuration if required. Only 2 of the 20 C-27As are VIP compatible, however, because the VIP modules have a different Cargo Handling System.
The USAF has operated C-27As in the past, but Afghan aircraft are all former Italian Air Force machines built to different production standards from 1977 – 1985. Alenia Aeronautica had bought them back when the Italian government bought C-27Js, and an opportunity to re-sell and service them was attractive on several fronts. Because of the different configurations for individual planes, however, the contract stipulated that all aircraft had to be brought to common avionics and systems configuration, including a new autopilot and ballistic protection.
The G.222/C-27A was not known as an easy aircraft to maintain, but it does feature outstanding short runway performance, and offers proven performance in hot weather and high altitudes. That seemed to make it well-suited for work in Afghanistan.
The key was keeping them in the air. The USAF tried to address the spares and maintenance issue through the program via extensive training through the US military, an initial spare parts inventory, ground support equipment, technical publications in English and Dari, and 3 years worth of contractor logistics support. By 2012, it was clear that this wasn’t working, as the Afghan fleet of 15 was effectively grounded. By the end of 2013, the program was canceled, and the USAF moved to scrap both the contract and the planes.
Contracts and Key Events
2010 – 2013
Grounded, then cancelled.
“The unofficial reason is the unwillingness of the Italians to pay as much in bribes as the Afghan commanders were demanding. Over half a billion dollars was being spent on buying and operating these aircraft and all the money was coming from the United States. Afghan government and air force officials were determined to grab as much of that cash as possible. That meant there was not enough money for the spare parts and tools needed to keep the C-27As flying…. Western donor nations are getting fed up with the increasingly aggressive Afghan corruption. Last year, as the Afghans asked for more military aid, the donor nations instead cut contributions… from $11 billion a year to $4.1 billion a year between 2012 and 2017. That would only change if, by some miracle, the Afghans managed to get their thieving ways under control. Currently, the Afghans will go to great lengths to get around donor auditors and anti-corruption measures. The C-27A was a case of everyone just giving up. Expect to see more cases like this.”
Dec 27/12: The Wall Street Journal reports that after spending $596 million on the C-27A program, the USAF won’t be renewing Alenia’s C-27A maintenance contract. In fact, they’re planning to scrap the planes:
“Mr. Gulick said the U.S. Air Force and Alenia would suspend C-27A flight operations in Afghanistan, determine how to dispose of the existing aircraft and associated spare parts [16 delivered, emphasis DID's], and close out the contract…. “This decision comes after failed attempts by the contractor to generate a sufficient number of fully mission-capable aircraft that would provide an effective airlift capability for the AAF…. “Though the Air Force assisted Alenia throughout the program in an effort to help the program succeed, Alenia never achieved key contractual requirements.”
Alenia told the Wall Street Journal that they were surprised, since the remediation plan had been fully implemented, but Gulick said that only 10 aircraft of the 16 delivered had flown since the March 2012 grounding. Alenia were asked for further details by DID, but didn’t respond by press time.
This is a huge setback to a war-critical procurement program. It doesn’t reflect well on US military leadership or on the USAF, which has seen a number of procurement programs (KC-X tanker, CSAR-X helicopter) go seriously awry. The Pentagon’s Inspector General might want to talk to Afghan Air Force spokesman Col. Mohammad Bahadu, who told Stars and Stripes that a fairly basic mistake was at fault:
“The basic problem is that these airplanes were purchased without spare parts,” Bahadur said. “For a small part, you need to wait for weeks or months.”
Meanwhile, the war goes on. Afghan Ministry of Defense spokesman Gen. Zahir Azimi has told Stars and Stripes that the USA is set to deliver 4 C-130s to the Afghan Air Force in 2013. These would be C-130Es or C-130Hs, whose cargo payload is noticeably reduced in Afghanistan’s high altitudes and occasional heat. Even so, they’d be a stopgap improvement over the existing fleet of 26 C-208B Caravan light transports, which lack the payload and range required for key missions. Stars and Stripes | Wall Street Journal.
Program – and planes – scrapped
May 25/12: Grounded. The Wall Street Journal reports that the ANA AF’s fleet of 15 in-country C-27As has been grounded for “months”, with 2 separate fleet-wide groundings in December 2011 and March 2012.
Sources told the Journal that it was because because key equipment was either missing or unavailable, documentation was poor, and Alenia’s subcontractor L-3 Systems Field Support had not been able to meet contract specifications. Lots of fingers are being pointed, but a final verdict will have to await the Pentagon’s Inspector General, who is likely to examine the issue as part of a broader report covering the Afghan Air Force.
The WSJ quotes an Alenia North American spokesperson who says that they’re working with the USAF, and expect to have the fleet flying again. Meanwhile, the Afghans are using a combination of hired helicopters and fixed-wing planes, and the AAF’s C-208B Caravan light supply and training aircraft.
March 30/12: Support. Alenia North America in Washington, DC wins a $107.7 million firm-fixed-price, time-and-material, cost-reimbursement-no fee, labor hours contract for G222 sustainment services; spares, repairs, contractor logistics support, and engineering support.
Work will be performed in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the contract runs to March 8/14. The Warner Robbins Air Logistics Center at Robins Air Force Base, GA manages the contract (FA8553-12-D-0001).
Sept 20/11: #12-14 delivered. Alenia North America announces that it has delivered aircraft 12-14 to the Afghanistan Air Force (AAF). All 3 are expected to be in country by month end, joining a fleet that has now flown over 4,700 hours. Both of the VIP-compatible planes are already in country. Alenia North America [PDF]
March 4/11: Support. Alenia North America in Washington, DC receives a not-to-exceed $20 million firm-fixed-price contract for repair and return of Afghanistan G222/C-27 program parts. Work will be performed in Madison, MS and Rome, Italy. WR-ALC/GRBKB at Robins Air Force Base, GA manages the contract (FA8553-11-C-0004).
Feb 20/11: #10 arrives. The Afghan Air Force receives its 10th C-27A Spartan transport aircraft at the Afghan Air Force Base in Kabul. This plane had been used for pilot training, and to date, 48 U.S. Air Force Advisors have been trained using the C-27/G-222 aircraft.
2008 – 2010
1st flight. Deliveries and training.
Sept 27/10: 2 more. Alenia North America announces [PDF] a $30 million USAF contract to add 2 more C-27As to the Afghan contract. The new contract includes 2 refurbished C-27A aircraft with ballistic protection for the cockpit and a liquid oxygen compartment, technical support, and travel in support of the Afghan Air Force. They will be delivered by the end of 2011.
The C-27/G.222 AAF program now includes 18 aircraft in a standardized operational configuration, plus 2 more that can also be configured to carry VIP modules for Presidential and VIP airlift. Alenia North America is also on contract to provide USAF Air Advisor training at their facility in Capodichino, Naples, Italy.
2 more C-27As
Sept 6/10: Alenia North America announces [PDF] that the Afghan C-27A fleet has reached the milestone of 1,000 combined operational flight hours. As of their release, 7 C-27As have been delivered, including 2 more at the beginning of September 2010. One of the September 2010 deliveries will remain at Alenia’s Capodichino facility near Naples, Italy for USAF Air Advisor Training. The other new plane is for Presidential and VIP airlift.
Asked about these deployment arrangements, Alenia North America responded that The 4th aircraft (vid. Feb 22/10 entry) deployed after it completed the 2nd US Air Advisor Training Class. Since the start of 3rd US Air Advisor Training Class coincided with the delivery of the 7th aircraft, it was used to fill that slot until the end of its training class, whereupon it too will deploy to Afghanistan.
1,000 operational flight-hours
July 8/10: Training. Continued delays in Afghan pilot training – but good on Col. Craig Rice for switching to English and professional proficiency training while they wait. Because English is effectively the international language of aviation, English proficiency is a critical qualifying skill:
“What better way to expose them to the Western ways than putting some of our advisors with them ‘shohna ba shohna’ (shoulder to shoulder) where they live, eat, sleep, talk English and aviation,” Colonel Rice said. “The best part is that they get to see, first hand, the professionalism and dedication of our officers, and how we operate, how our system is based on merit verses who you are related to or what tribe you are from … it is your performance that counts.”
To help alleviate the boredom of waiting, these 2009 and 2010 graduates of the National Military Academy of Afghanistan and Officer Candidate School graduates were selected to live in the lab based on their English comprehension test scores. The top 20 were chosen. They moved into the unnamed lab May 15 and chose the name Thunder Lab because in Dari, Pashto, and English thunder is the same word.
The daily schedule at Thunder Lab is demanding. The day begins at 5:15 a.m. with physical fitness. After breakfast, students receive three hours of English training or Air Force training. After lunch, they attend aviation English instruction, followed by military and professional training with an American mentor for two hours, and they even have a barracks cleaning rotation. Prayer time and dinner are followed by simulator and study time and an evening movie.”
July 1/10: Paradrop. Afghan C-27As perform their first paradrop in Afghanistan, with the participation of USAF advisors on board. USAF.
June 14/10: ANA AF now. USAF:
“According to order of the President of Afghanistan and the written guidance of the Minister of Defense and the Chief of the Afghan General Staff, the Afghans are changing the name of the Afghan National Army Air Corps to the Afghan National Army Air Force.”
Feb 22/10: #4 delivered. Finmeccanica subsidiary Alenia North America delivers the 4th ANAAC C-27A to the United States Air Force at Alenia’s Capodichino facility near Naples, Italy. The first 3 C-27As have already been deployed to Afghanistan, and are flying with the Combined Air Power Transition Force (CAPTF) in Kabul. This 4th aircraft will remain in Capodichino, and is currently being used for training.
The training courses for pilots, loadmasters, crew chiefs, and maintenance personnel last between 15 and 40 days, depending on their duties, and includes classroom academics, practical training, and flight training. Alenia Aeronautica release.
Sept 29/09: Support. Alenia North America, Incorporated of Washington, DC receives a $7.1 million contract pertaining to the acquisition of 18 refurbished G.222/C-27A aircraft to support the Afghan National Army Air Corps. At this time, the entire amount has been committed by the 330th ACSG/GFKA at Robins Air Force Base, GA (FA8504-08-C-0007, P00002).
Sept 25/09: Delivery. Alenia Aeronautica delivers the first of 18 C-27A aircraft at Capodichino, Italy.
July 30/09: 1st flight. The first G.222 aircraft returns to flight, one month after its roll-out and 9 months since the start of its overhaul and upgrade. The G.222 makes a 2 hour flight from Capodichino, after which it will continue a test program before delivery to the USAF. Deliveries are planned to continue at a rate of approximately 1 aircraft per month until 2011. Source.
Sept 5/09: Training. The USAF reports that test pilots, engineers and ground crews from Alenia North America have performed an initial test flight of the first C-27A destined for Afghanistan. Initial deliveries remain on schedule for late September 2009, and C-27As are expected to be added to the Afghan National Army Air Corps’ fleet of 7 AN-26/32 aircraft in November 2009.
The transition to the C-27A is already underway. Over the past three months, 30 Afghan Antonov AN-26/32 pilots traveled to San Antonio to attend English Language Training and Specialized English Training at the Defense Language Institute. After completing of up to 8 months of language training, the Afghan pilots attend an 8-week instrument flight rules course in San Antonio, to obtain an International Civil Aviation Organization IFR certification. Then, 10 U.S. pilots will teach the new students C-27A transition training.
July 23/09: Training. Officials from the Kabul Air Corps Training Center’s Air University certify 8 Afghans after a 3-month basic loadmaster course July 23. Training included weight and balance theory, loading operations, passenger handling and forklift certification. This was the first loadmaster class conducted for the Afghan Air Corps in more than 30 years, and 8 U.S. mentors provided specific loadmaster training to the recent graduates. Air University BLM course instructor Faizadeen Abadi is quoted as saying that:
“The C-27(A) will be good for Afghanistan because it’s much easier to load. The roller system increased capability for loading equipment access to the aircraft, and the capacity to transport larger tactical vehicles are outstanding attributes of the aircraft.”
Sept 29/08: Alenia North America, Inc. of Washington, DC receives a not-to-exceed $287 million firm-fixed-price contract. The program currently includes 18 aircraft in a standardized operational configuration, as well as the modules to convert 2 aircraft to a VIP Transport configuration if required.
The Italian Air Force will provide the aircraft from its own inventory, and they will be refurbished and delivered to Afghanistan through the USAF’s Combined Air Power Transition Force based in Kabul. The C-27As will be delivered commencing in 2009, with deliveries continuing through 2011. Finmeccanica release [PDF] | Defense News | See also USAF’s Jan 2008 article: “General shares successes, challenges of Afghan air corps“.
- The Aviation Zone – Alenia C-27 (G222) Spartan
- DID – Afghan AN-32s Arrive
- US DoD (Sept 30/10) – DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable: Afghan Air Force Capabilities. With USAF Brig. Gen. David Allvin, commanding general, NATO Air Training Command, NTM-A/CSTC-A.