The JCA Program: Key West Sabotage?
The US Air Force’s has been maneuvering in a way that puts in question the “joint” in “Joint Cargo Aircraft” (JCA). The rationale for JCA is to buy smaller and cheaper planes than the C-130 Hercules, which could provide tactical transport in-theater into smaller airfields, with smaller loads, more quickly, and at less cost than C-130s or maintenance-intensive CH-47 helicopters. The $1.3 billion program for 33 initial aircraft is an Army priority, as its C-23B Sherpa and C-12 Huron aircraft are wearing out quickly and the current war has highlighted this area as a problem for soldiers on the ground. Combat commanders have also complained about air transport that couldn’t make full use of the shorter runways found throughout CENTCOM’s areas of operation. Despite this, the JCA program was recently on the receiving end of almost total FY 2007 cuts from a Senate committee.
JCA: The Budgetary Brouhaha
“…the Army needs the aircraft in 2008, but the Air Force, having C-130s, is waiting until 2010. So for the 2007 budget request, the Army requested $113m for the JCA, while the Air Force $15m. The Airland Subcommittee asked the Air Force about the status of the JCA program, and the Air Force responded that “it is nowhere near buying the aircraft.” Thus the subcommittee cut $109m from the Army budget.”
The USAF’s role stretches back farther, however, and Defense Tech becomes even less impressed as it is described:
“…So when the Army initiated the FCA, the Air Force felt compelled to protect its turf in the air lift business by joining the program, and then delayed the program by dragging its feet on its portion of the joint requirement. I think it was instructive to note that, only after the Army has announced the request for proposal for the FCA, did the Air Force start making noise about its similar requirements, yet did not have its set of requirement ready right away. What was the Air Force rep on the JROC doing? Isn’t it his job to tell the Air Force before the Army announces its RFP?
In the 1960s, the Air Force did the same thing by appropriating the intra-theater C-123s from the Army using the same arguments, and then promptly retired the fleet…” 
National Defense Magazine had discussed the potential for inter-service rivalry to sabotage this program via a “Key West Accords power play” back in November 2005. That prediction appears to be coming true, and the full Defense Tech coverage can be found here.
See also The Hill’s coverage, titled: “Air Force Puts Kibosh on Army Cargo Aircraft.” It adds:
“The JCA would go to the Army and Air National Guard. The recommendation to cut money from the program could raise ire among the states’ adjutant generals because they are already troubled by the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Commission decision to take C-130s from the National Guard and move them to the active Air Force, thus leaving states without their assets, a defense source said.”
JCA: The Program and Contenders
Some program structures discussed to date have the Army buying 30-35 new aircraft at first. Under the joint Memorandum of Understanding signed in June 2006, however, JCA could grow into a $6 billion, 145 plane program with 75 aircraft for the USAF, and another 70 for the US Army.
At present, the JCA would replace 43 Sherpa aircraft, plus some roles undertaken by C-12 Hurons (Beech King Airs) with one of two main competitors: the Alenia/L-3/Boeing C-27J Spartan, or EADS-CASA/Raytheon’s C-295M. EADS-CASA’s smaller C-235, and a shortened C-130J from Lockheed Martin, were disqualified as not meeting the criteria.
As DID has noted in the past, the key tradeoff is that EADS-CASA/Raytheon’s C-295 is more efficient per flight hour and also longer, which gives it the capacity for more standard cargo pallets or troops. On the other hand, the Lockheed/Alenia/L-3 C-27J offers extensive C-130 Hercules compatibility that eases its logistics, maintenance and training burden; as well as bigger internal dimensions and floor strength levels that give it fuller tactical capabilities so it can carry Hummers internally, smaller armored vehicles like an M113, or even a prepared OH-58 Kiowa helicopter.
The C-27J has been ordered by Italy (12 aircraft) and Greece (12), and has also recently been ordered by Bulgaria (8) and Lithuania (3), and is on Romania’s preferred list. It is currently being evaluated by Canada, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and of course the USA. The final decision on the JCA contract is expected by March 2007, and Alenia is joined in its bid by L-3 and Boeing [PDF format]. The C-27J incorporates many improvements over the C-27As flown by the USAF during the 1990s in remote regions of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Panama. The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs still flies 4 C-27As out of Patrick Air Force Base in Florida.
The C-295M has been ordered by Spain (9 aircraft), Algeria (10 for transport and maritime patrol), Brazil (12 to support the SIVAM Amazon monitoring project), 10), Portugal (12), Switzerland (2), and the United Arab Emirates Navy (4 C-295MP Persuader maritime patrol). Raytheon is partnered with EADS-CASA for the JCA competition, and the C-295M is also a competitor in places like Canada, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
JCA: Program Updates
June 12/07: A winner is picked. But the selection is appealed to the Congressional GAO, even as details regarding the actual buy remain unclear and the USAF’s commitment remains uncertain. The C-27J would eventually go into production, but not in the numbers contemplated. See “Joint Cargo Aircraft: We Have a Winner” for ALL subsequent updates.
Nov 21/06: Lockheed Martin’s JCA protest is not successful. The reason their “shortened C-130J” was disqualified from the finals?
Their bid wouldn’t have provided jam-resistant GPS instrumentation until 2012, and its incorporation required the USAF to sign on to the existing upgrade contract for the C-130J fleet (FA8625-04-D-6425). The RFP, on the other hand, wanted the planes delivered with those systems installed. The other competitors complied, and even a clarification request to Lockheed didn’t wake them up. The GAO seemed none too happy with Lockheed Martin’s protest, either, stopping just sort of calling its arguments dishonest.
Oct 31/06: Dow Jones Marketwatch reports Brig. Gen. Stephen Mundt, head of aviation on the Army’s Pentagon staff as saying that that the US Army and the Air Force are on track to pick a plane in February or March 2007 for the $6 billion-plus JCA program. He assured reporters that the program won’t have any trouble getting its money, even though funds were authorized for the Air Force budget and appropriated into the Army budget, saying that either service would pass the money on to the joint program office.
Oct 21/06: AFSOCOM JCA? Inside Defense reports that Air Force Special Operations Command officials are discussing a new fleet of small, less obtrusive airlifters that could ferry small groups into nations where an obvious U.S. military presence might breed political problems. “We’re researching the feasibility of using a lighter cargo aircraft” than AFSOCOM’s MC-130 Hercules variants, said Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Donny Wurster. “It may look like a [Joint Cargo Aircraft], it may look like a private jet,” Wurster said, noting the command has yet to finalize a list of requirements for the new plane.
Oct 4/06: In “JCA Award Impact Uncertain, Army Aviation Officials Say,” Aviation Week reports that the JCA program remains in a very uncertain state following House-Senate discussions. They add that the authorization conferees highlighted the fact that that the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Intratheater Lift Capabilities Study Phase 1 and the Air Mobility Command’s Mobility Roadmap are under development. Until they are complete, the conference report said that the right mix and number of intratheater aircraft will not be determined and “It would be premature to procure aircraft until the department completes these efforts and presents them to the congressional defense committees.” Yet the Army and Air Force apparently plan to go ahead with the selection of a winning aircraft in 2007.
Oct 4/06: Air-Attack notes that “questions surround JCA funding” after House and Senate bills approve defense authorization bills that allows the Air Force to spend $109.2 million on the planes in fiscal 2007, as well as one that gives the Army $72.2 million and the Air Force $15.8 million for the planes. The divergent bills will need to be reconciled in committee.
Sept 19/06: The Hill magazine reported that House and Senate conferees have agreed to give back $109 million slashed by Senate authorizers from JCA program – but the money will come with strings attached. One is that it will be restored to the Air Force’s funding line, not the Army’s. Other strings include the caveat that the Air Force and Army complete a joint analysis of alternatives and develop joint requirements. The agreed-upon restoration is also a provisional agreement, and will not be final until it is reflected in final House and Senate budgets, and then a final FY 2007 defense bill.
The Army has said repeatedly there is already a joint requirement for the new aircraft and that the Air Force has accepted the Army’s analysis of alternatives. Yet The Hill notes that these conditions could delay the competition for the Army’s portion of the program. It may also affect the weighting of requirements within the program toward standard pallet cargo (C-295 strength) and away from the ability to transport tactical vehicles (C-27J strength). The full article can be found here [PDF format]
Sept 19/06: The Team JCA partnership of Raytheon and EADS CASA North America has established a public-private partnership agreement with Letterkenny Army Depot, PA to work together on a logistics approach to the Joint Cargo Aircraft program. Under the agreement, Team JCA would work with Letterkenny to define the Army’s maintenance requirements. The agreement is “the first of four that Team JCA expects to sign with the Army and Air Force during the coming weeks.” See release.
Aug 14/06: Lockheed Martin files a protest with the GAO and urges a freeze on the JCA program until its complaint is resolved, following the exclusion of its shortened-fuselage C-130J from the JCA competition. The protest fails (see Nov 21/06).
August 2/06: C-130J, CN-235 eliminated. The US Army has informed Lockheed that its shortened C-130J does not qualify for the JCA, and also eliminated the EADS/Raytheon CN-235.
June 21/06: Army and Air Force officials sign JCA agreement. They set a deadline of July 2007 for an update to an initial 2005 analysis of alternatives, which said the Army would need 75 new aircraft and the Air Force 70.
June 7/06: Lockheed Martin offers a shortened version of its C-130J for the JCA program.
April 27/06: Boeing joins the GMAS C-27J team. Alenia Aeronautica sign a Memorandum of Understanding, and Boeing will also be involved in development of any specialty versions requested by the US armed forces. At this point, the C-27J team includes Alenia North America, Boeing, Dowty, Honeywell, L-3 Communications, Lockheed Martin, Rolls-Royce and “two dozen other suppliers from around the USA.” Finmeccanica release [PDF]
DID Analysis & Op-Ed, May 15/06
The key tradeoff is that EADS-CASA/Raytheon’s C-295 is more efficient per flight hour and also longer, which gives it the capacity for more standard pallets. On the other hand, the Lockheed/Alenia/L-3 C-27J offers extensive C-130 Hercules compatibility that eases its logistics, maintenance and training burden; as well as internal dimensions and floor strength levels that give it fuller tactical capabilities so it can carry smaller armored vehicles like an M113 or even a prepared OH-58C Kiowa helicopter internally.
Evidently, this choice and its implications is the least of the Pentagon’s concerns right now; preoccupations with other tradeoffs abound instead.
Bloody-minded turf battles can simply become bloody when they obstruct wartime priorities for the people on the ground who are actually doing the fighting. Faced with the obvious difference in priorities, and one service that doesn’t seem to value this mission, Kenneth Krieg’s decision to force the Army FCA program into a joint program with the Air Force is looking like a very poor move. Even if one doesn’t go as far as Defense Tech’s recommendations, failure to rectify this situation within the next few months would make rescinding the JCA program’s joint status a minimal first step toward solving the problem. One that would remove the potential for obstructionism and sneaky games that hamper the conduct of the war, and get the Army the equipment it needs to do its job in wartime – on time.
Is JCA Necessary?
For those interested in an alternative take that questions the wisdom of the entire program JCA, see Loren B. Thompson’s “Joint Cargo Aircraft: Is This Program Necessary?” This companion piece by Thompson offers more depth re: his own view of acquisition priorities.
On the other hand, in the context of the WALRUS super-heavy cargo airship’s cancellation, complaints from combat commanders stated that C-130s were not able to get equipment close enough to the front lines due to short airfield restrictions.
fn1. A DID reader writes:
“The article had bad data regarding the C-123. In the 50s it was a light transport in general use. It was typically assigned to missions like SAC–support to missile sites. There were a few that flew out of base flight at Fairchild AFB, Spokane, Washington. TAC had them in squadron size at Pope AFB, N.C. used mostly to support airdrop to the Ft. Bragg ranges.
They were the backbone of airlift support in SEA in the early 60s before the C-130s came in. There were 4 squadrons–2 at Ton Son Nhut, 1 at Nha Trang, and 1 at DaNang. They were shorter field capable and manned mostly by former SAC B-47 pilots who were available because their aircraft were being retired. You need to check your source that indicated that the Army ever operated the C-123. The roles and missions agreement of that period had Army operation of fixed wing aircraft strictly limited to liaison aircraft.”
Any readers who can explain the discrepancy between the Defense Tech report and this account would do us a service by helping to clear this up.
- Alenia/ L-3/ Boeing JCA Team (C-27J) official site
- EADS-CASA/ Raytheon Team JCA (C-295M) official site
- US Air Force Link (Jan 15/06) – Hub-and-spoke missions provide tactical airlift in Iraq. The JCA aircraft would be expected to play strong roles in these kinds of missions.
- Inside the Air Force, via USAF Aim Points (March 27/06) – Could nimble JCA become 21st century ‘surrogate’ for C-130 fleet?