Advocates of the Joint Cargo Aircraft are working on Capital Hill to convince a House subcommittee that a delay cited by the lawmakers for axing much of the 2009 funding for the plane is not a delay at all. Meanwhile, the head of Air Mobility Command hopes that an anticipated mobility requirements study finally will answer the question of just how many JCAs the Air Force really needs.
A House panel cut $32 million from the Air Force's research and development budget for the JCA, a C-27 Spartan built by Alenia North America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Italian plane maker Alenia Aeronautica, and L3 Communications. The panel also reduced from $264 million to $151 million the Army's JCA budget. That cut will reduce the number of Army JCAs from seven to four, according to Jason Decker, a spokesman for L3.
But Decker said he believes the claim of a delay is a House staffer's misunderstanding of the delivery schedule. Right now, he said, the company plans to deliver two JCAs to the Army, with the first one officially handed off in October. Once these two are delivered, no other planes are slated to be handed over until 2010.
Currently, six JCAs are on order, but under a $1.5 billion deal inked last year 40 of the planes are to be built and delivered by 2011.
Decker said he believes House staffers may have thought that because no planes are to be delivered in 2009 that there is a delay. In fact, he said, everything is on schedule.
AMC commander Gen. Arthur Lichte did not directly address the House panel's move when asked about it by DoDBuzz.
"We've got to wait and see how it comes out," said Lichte, who is in Washington this week for the Air Force Association's Air and Space Symposium. "We're awaiting another study that's supposed to come out that will tell us what the proper number [of JCAs needed by the Air Force] is, and how the Joint Cargo Aircraft will rack and stack."
A previous study looked at capabilities, not requirements, he said, and with a capabilities-based view a plane that carries more people or cargo looks better -- even if it's not right for the mission. Lichte said you may have a mission to move three people and two boxes, and doing that with a C-130J means a larger plane going out mostly empty.
"You have to look separately at that unique mission, and you've got to look separately at homeland security defense. That wasn't factored in the first time," he said.
Lawmakers wanting to pull money out of the Air Force and Army JCA budgets cited the study, in fact, to argue that the money intended for the JCA would be better spent to buy additional C-130Js for less money, according to one report.
Lockheed Martin, maker of the C-130J, previously competed for the JCA contract but the plane was rejected by Army and Air Force officials. A Lockheed official attending the Air and Space Symposium on Sept. 17 said the company had no plans to go after the program now.
-- By Bryant Jordan