WASHINGTON – Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp said April 8 he’s “delighted” to receive 14 of the 21 brand-new C-27J Spartan medium-range aircraft that were consigned to the boneyard by Air Force budget cuts.
"It saves us about a half a billion dollars in acquisition costs, and we're off and running the program now,” the admiral said.
U.S. Special Operations Command will receive the remaining seven aircraft, he said.
Papp said he expects the Coast Guard to be fully using the aircraft in fiscal year 2016, noting that the delay is due to the need to qualify instructors and thoroughly train the pilot and maintenance forces.
The aircraft became available last year after declining budgets forced the Air Force to cancel the program. The cancellation came at a fortuitous time for the Coast Guard, which was seeking to fill a need for medium-range fixed wing aircraft, Papp said.
In competition, the C-27J originally lost out to the HC-144 Ocean Sentry due to higher lifecycle costs, the admiral said. The Coast Guard has purchased 18 HC-144s, he said, noting that he expects to end the program at 18 aircraft.
“But then last year, when the Air Force put up these brand-new C-27J's as excess, we thought, ‘Wow, if we can get 21 for free, that really lowers the lifecycle cost significantly,’” Papp said.
Part of the cost savings comes from the fact that the two-engine C-27J uses the same engines and avionics as the four-engine C-130J Super Hercules, he said, which is slowly replacing the Coast Guard’s fleet of older C-130H Hercules aircraft.
“We have been getting, incrementally, one or two each budget cycle, and hopefully we'll replace our entire H fleet with J's sometime in the future,” the admiral said.
The Coast Guard immediately put in a bid to acquire all 21 of the aircraft, the commandant said. Special Operations Command and the Forest Service also each initially expressed interest in seven aircraft, he said, but the Forest Service determined that the C-27J wasn’t large enough to join its aerial firefighting fleet.
In a deal with the Air Force, the Coast Guard will send seven of its C-130H aircraft to be overhauled by Air Force technicians for use as Forest Service tankers, Papp said. The deal nets the Coast Guard a total of 14 C-27J’s — enough to outfit three air stations, he said.
“Initially, we really don't have to do much more than paint them,” he said. “It has all the communications gear, it has a good surface search radar -- we ultimately will want to put a sensor package in it very similar to what we use in our HC-144s and our C-130s, and that we will put in the budget in future years -- but we can put that aircraft to work almost immediately after we get people trained up on it.
“Since this is relatively new to us, we're in the process now of doing an aviation plan,” Papp added. The service is determining how and where it will allocate its new aviation assets for best effect, he explained.
The Coast Guard always will consider excess military equipment, the admiral said, but it has to be selective in what it accepts, particularly as budgets shrink.
“A lot of the stuff that's coming back from theater is well-worn right now,” he said. “We have a history in the Coast Guard of taking on hand-me-downs, and then they end up costing us a lot of money in the long run, because they're old and they need repair.”
Sometimes, it's simply too expensive to acquire the equipment, the commandant noted, or it would mean displacing another still-needed program.