Basing Decision

By John Liang / October 14, 2010 at 3:40 PM

Great Falls International Airport in Montana will be the "preferred alternative" to base C-27J aircraft, the Pentagon announced yesterday. The airport would be the seventh C-27J operational location for bedding down four aircraft, the statement continues. Further:

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley and Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz announced in July 2010 two candidate bases that included Boise Air Terminal Air Guard Station (AGS), Idaho, and Great Falls International Airport.  Site survey teams evaluated the two candidate sites for feasibility, timing, cost and planning purposes to meet initial operational capability requirements.

The C-27J is a twin turboprop engine aircraft designed to meet the Air Force requirement for a rugged, medium size airland transport.  The C-27J gives U.S. military troops a unique, short-take-off-and-landing capability, providing access to airstrips otherwise unreachable by fixed-wing aircraft.

The first six operational bases announced in July 2008 were Martin State AGS, Baltimore, Md.; W.K. Kellogg Airport, Battle Creek, Mich.; Bradley International Airport AGS, Bradley, Conn.; Hector Field AGS, Fargo, N.D.; Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport, Mansfield, Ohio; and Key Field AGS, Meridian, Miss.

The final basing decision for the seventh operational base is pending completion of environmental impact analysis, expected by May 2011. A final announcement is expected in June 2011 with aircraft delivery expected in mid-2014.

As Inside the Air Force reported in September:

The Air Force has no plans to purchase more than 38 C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft, which will perform the direct-support airlift mission, Air Mobility Command chief Gen. Raymond Johns told a small group of reporters after a Sept. 14 presentation. "If I need to service more locations, more units then the way we'll do it is with C-130s," he said.

The Air Force plans to deploy its first C-27J next spring, U.S. Transportation Command chief Gen. Duncan McNabb said during a Sept. 14 presentation. The first C-27J was delivered to the 179th Airlift Wing at Mansfield Lahm Airport, OH, on Aug. 14 according to the service statement.

. . . and in June:

The Air Force is retaining ownership of its intratheater cargo-haulers in Afghanistan despite conducting Army-run missions with the aircraft, according to an air service official.

The closely watched mission was among the major topics discussed during the June 2 Air Force-Army warfighter talks at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington. Top brass, including 40 general officers -- eight of which were Air Force four-stars -- attended the meetings.

Under the new direct-support construct, aircraft -- primarily C-130 Hercules -- are being tasked through a process called "general support-apportioned," according to an Air Force official. Under this construct, the aircraft remain property of the Air Force, but the Army owns the mission. . . .

The Army conducts its own direct-support with C-23 Sherpa cargo haulers. The ground service intended to replace those planes with the C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft, however, that program was transitioned to the Air Force last year. Shortly after, the Pentagon announced the Air Force would conduct the direct-support mission with the C-27J. The Air Force faced immediate criticism -- particularly from Army field-grade ranks -- that it would not be responsive enough to the ground service's battle needs. More recently, it was announced the air service would conduct direct support using C-130s, as well.

"This is a way of giving them that control without the burden on them of owning the aircraft and having to pay for the tooth-to-tail of that aircraft," the official said. "The Air Force still takes that and supports and maintains the aircraft, but the Army gets control of a set number of missions."