The saga of the two services’ battle over which one would get to operate small cargo aircraft in support of ground troops downrange has become like something out of Nordic lore, with so many chapters and twists and turns it’s tough to keep straight. Butler gave the history:
If this all sounds familiar, it is. Recall that USAF Gen. T. Michael Moseley’s coming out speech as the top Air Force officer at the AFA symposium in the fall of 2005. He took that opportunity to announce that the Air Force was pursuing a new light cargo aircraft procurement. This proclamation was made oddly as the Army was in the midst of setting up its future cargo aircraft program, which was crafted to replace old Sherpas and provide more immediate access to commanders for cargo support. Moseley’s push, along with his similar move to take over the Army’s burgeoning UAV force at the time, was seen as an abrupt roles-and-missions grab by the Air Force in the midst of two major wars. In the case of the cargo aircraft role, the Air Force won.
The blue suiters wound up cutting the Army’s onetime goal for 125 new small cargo aircraft to 38 C-27J Spartans, Butler writes, while the Army’s old C-23 Sherpas are still flying after all. And get this:
[T]he kicker for the Army is that the Air Force is said to be considering an early termination of the C-27J program to funnel money to other urgent service priorities.
That would mean the Air National Guard could wind up with 21 airplanes, a cutback so steep that Italian defense giant Finmeccanica scrapped plans to put a final assembly facility in Florida; instead its Alenia division is just building all the airplanes at home, Butler writes.
And with all this water under the bridge, the basic issue here remains:
[T]he question today as the Army and Air Force both attempt to normalize their fleets after surging for war support for a decade is: What is the right number of small cargo lifters for the direct support role? And, who should lead this role?“De-emphasis” sounds like exactly what has happened here. By the time these two services get their act together, the war in Afghanistan may be over.
Army officials have long argued that an Army officer must lead this mission to ensure that Army commanders’ needs are the priority; they fear that the Air Force will de-emphasize Army unit requirements against the more strategic priorities of regional cargo movements of larger amounts of goods. The Air Force, however, has long countered that it best knows how to provide airborne logistics support across a fleet of aircraft, including C-27J, C-130 and the C-17.