When the WALRUS super-heavy cargo airship was canceled, combat commanders complained that front-line airfields were often too short for the C-130 Hercules that make up the USAF’s tactical transport fleet. Delays in buying a small cargo aircraft to fill that role were making that problem worse. Starved of useful help due to USAF-sponsored delays, and the lack of appropriate aircraft in the USAF, the Army carried on with its aging C-23 Sherpas, and repurposed aircraft like the unprotected C-12 Hurons, in order to ferry troops, supplies, and/or very small vehicles within its theaters of operations.
The Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) could have been worth up to $6 billion before all was said and done, and the finalists were a familiar duo. After EADS-CASA’s CN-235 and a shortened version of Lockheed Martin’s C-130J were disqualified for failing to meet requirements, JCA became yet another international competition between EADS-CASA’s C-295M & Alenia’s C-27J. The C-27J team eventually won the delayed decision in June 2007, and prevailed in the subsequent contract protests from their rivals. What remained unclear was exactly what they had won. The joint-service decision and contract announcement didn’t end the inter-service and Congressional politicking, and the contractor side was equally fractious. This FOCUS article covers the JCA competition, and subsequent developments – including the Pentagon’s 2012 push to end the program, and sell its planes.