Magazine article National Defense

Wanted: A New Small Hauler: Battle Heats Up to Replace Army's Hard-Working Sherpa

Magazine article National Defense

Wanted: A New Small Hauler: Battle Heats Up to Replace Army's Hard-Working Sherpa

Article excerpt

THE UNGAINLY C-23 SHERPA TRANSPORT DOES not look like a major player in combat operations in Iraq, but--plane for plane--it has hauled more cargo and troops than any aircraft in the war zone.

"The C-23 has evolved as a small hauler for the Army," said Col. Paul Kelly, chief of the National Guard Bureau's Aviation and Safety Division in Arlington, Va.

The Sherpa, however, is aging and has other limitations, and the Army has decided to develop a replacement. It intends to spend up to $4 billion for a platform called the future cargo aircraft, which would be larger than a Sherpa but smaller than a C-130.

Initially, the Army plans to buy 33 of these aircraft exclusively for the Guard, at a cost of $1 billion. That number, however, could grow. The Army has identified a requirement for 128 cargo aircraft, Kelly said.

At press time, the Army was expected to release a draft request for proposals to build the 33 new aircraft, with a final request to follow in the fall. "We're moving at a very accelerated pace," Kelly said. The contract could be awarded by early 2006, with delivery of the first aircraft in late 2007 or 2008, he said.

Thus far, two teams of contractors have announced their intention to compete. In February, Alenia Aeronautica North America formed a joint venture with L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, called Global Military Aircraft Systems, to market Alenia's C-27J Spartan.

Then, in May, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) North America and Raytheon Company partnered to offer EADS' CASA CN-235 and C-295 transports.

Alenia's C-27J is based on an earlier model, the C-27A, which was sold to the Air Force. The C-27J is an upgraded model designed with the participation of the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, using engines, propellers and flight systems installed in Lockheed's larger, longer range C-130J. For this reason, it often is called a "Baby Herc" or "half a Herc."

Italy and Greece have each ordered 12 for their military services. Bulgaria has bought eight, and the aircraft is competing for orders in Canada and Portugal.

The Spartan, with a flight ceiling of 30,000 feet, can cruise higher than the Sherpa, which is limited to 20,000 feet. It also can fly longer, with a ferry range of 3,200 nautical miles. The C-27J can carry up to 68 troops, 36 stretchers or more than 23,000 pounds of cargo.

For payload, the Spartan cannot match the C-130, which can move up to 128 troops, 97 stretchers or 42,000 pounds of gear. However, it can use much shorter airfields, landing in as little space as 1,115 feet.

Whether EADS offers the CN-235 or the C-295 will depend upon the specifics of the Army requirements, said Ralph D. Crosby Jr., EADS chairman and CEO.

The two are quite different aircraft, he told reporters. The CN-235, which has been chosen as the maritime patrol aircraft for the Coast Guard's Deepwater program and is in military service in more than 20 other countries, is the smaller of the two. With a length of 70 feet, it can carry a 13,600-pound payload or 51 troops and can land on a 2,365-foot runway. The C-295, by comparison, is 80 feet long. It can transport 71 soldiers or 20,400 pounds of cargo and land on 2,395 feet of runway.

Both teams emphasized the cargo-loading capabilities of their aircraft. Alenia said that military vehicles--including combat-ready, hardtop Humvees--can drive on and off the Spartan in minutes. EADS said the C-295's fuselage is similar to that of the Chinook, allowing the transfer of palletized cargo between the two without the need to change the payload in height, length or width.

EADS stressed that, if it gets the contract, more than 30 percent of the aircraft parts will be made in the United States. The final assembly site would be decided after the contract is awarded, Crosby said. EADS recently completed a facility in Mobile, Ala. …

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