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Surplus C-27J Spartans Could Mean Big Windfall for Coast Guard 

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By Sarah Sicard 


C-27J Spartan

The Coast Guard is looking to benefit from the Air Force’s retirement of the C-27J Spartan transport aircraft.

Twenty-one of the aircraft were set to be decommissioned at the end of the fiscal year. The National Defense Authorization Act carved out seven for the Forest Service for firefighting activities.

That leaves 14 potentially available for the Coast Guard, said Vice Adm. John Currier, the service’s vice commandant, during a House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure hearing.

They would serve as search-and-rescue aircraft, along with the new HC-144A Ocean Sentry, built by EADS North America.

The original HC-144A program of record called for the acquisition of 36 aircraft. The current budget crunch and the availability of the surplus C-27Js has brought that plan into question.

“We would be forced to take a strategic pause in that acquisition in fiscal year ’14, and subsequently we would have to reexamine the affordability of the [HC-144A] aircraft vis-a-vis the whole acquisition,” said Currier.

Canceling the remainder of the HC-144A procurement has the potential to save anywhere between $500 million and $800 million for the Coast Guard, whose budget for this fiscal year was $1.1 billion less than the $2 billion recommended for its acquisition, construction and improvements account.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., supported the Coast Guard’s pursuit of the C-27J as a cost-effective alternative. “Potential savings of three-quarters of a billion dollars is pretty significant,” he said.

The C-27J was rapidly acquired during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to replace the Army’s fleet of antiquated C-23 Sherpas, which were designed for short missions and smaller runways. The Army-Air Force Joint Cargo Aircraft program selected the Italian-designed Alenia aircraft with the intention of procuring 100 of them. The Defense Department eventually handed complete control of the program to the Air Force, which drastically cut their numbers. The Air Force has now deemed them unnecessary and too costly to operate.

The plan has the endorsement of Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, as well as her Defense Department counterpart Chuck Hagel, according to Currier.

The Spartans could be converted to search-and-rescue aircraft much faster than it would take to have the remaining HC-144A aircraft funded and delivered, said Currier. It is also relatively easy to transfer surplus aircraft from one military branch to another, he added.

Fifteen of the HC-144A aircraft have been delivered since 2009.

The logistics and maintenance cost of operating two different search-and-rescue aircraft was one of the few concerns raised during the hearing.

Garamendi said: “I know there’s going to be some kickback coming from whoever doesn’t have that contract to manufacture the remaining 18, but I think we can handle that.”

Guy Hicks, an EADS North America spokesman, pointed out that DHS recently recognized the HC-144A as its acquisition program of the year.

“In today’s tight budget environment, the U.S. Coast Guard needs programs that deliver what’s been promised and that are cost-effective to operate,” he said in an email to National Defense.

He estimated the direct maintenance and fuel costs for the HC-144A were half of the C-27J.

“The HC-144A Ocean Sentry is an indispensable asset not just because it can do the mission, but because it is highly cost-effective to own, maintain and operate — a critical consideration for any asset the Coast Guard takes into its inventory,” he added.  

Photo Credit: Defense Dept.
Reader Comments

Re: Surplus C-27J Spartans Could Mean Big Windfall for Coast Guard

First of all, the USFS has realized that a MAFFS program for the C-27J is unrealistic. Instead a computerized internal tank would be untilized, holding around 2000 gallons. Secondly, the cost of operating a C-130 is very very expensive. In fact the whole Very Large Air Tanker (VLAT) program is just a waste of money. Using those large air tankers on large running fires is like pissing in the wind. Absolutely ineffective! The only thing the air tankers are good for is public relations and photo shots for the media and the public. The USFS should be using more heavy helicopters, placed at
strategic locations for initial attack.

BC Gronk on 10/14/2013 at 16:57

Re: Surplus C-27J Spartans Could Mean Big Windfall for Coast Guard

The C-27Js should go to the US Coast Guard and SOF. The Modular Airborne FireFighting System or MAFFS and MAFFS II are self-contained units used for aerial fire fighting that can be loaded onto a C-130 Hercules. The cargo bay in the C-27J is too small for the equipment. The US Air Force is retiring quite a number of Legacy C-130 aircraft that should go through a Depot Maintenance & Inspection, then upgrade as they go back together and send them to the Forestry Service. The same upgrades should be included as we are about to place in the Legacy C130H’s for the Guard and Reserve (T56 engine upgrades w/ Full Authority Digital Engine Control [FADEC], new Hamilton Standard NP-2000 8-bladed prop instead of the Dowty R391 6-bladed Propeller, and Glass Cockpit). Our summers have been long, hot and full of forest fires. We have lost too much forest, homes, and lives. Fix it.

Curtis Conway on 08/01/2013 at 21:48

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