National Guard January 2012 : Page 28

Spartan Future By Ron Jensen Guard leaders and elected officials promise a fight if the Air Force persists with plans to kill the C-27 cargo aircraft VEN AS THE C-27 Spartan is proving its worth in Afghanistan, the Air Force wants to kill the new airplane flown exclusively by the Air National Guard. That was the service’s recommen-dation in its fiscal 2013 budget draft, which was still being considered by the Defense Department last month. But several states that either have E | the twin-engine turboprop cargo air-craft or are scheduled to receive it are making a case to continue fielding it to units for use at home and abroad. “The aircraft fills a void,” says Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins, the Maryland adjutant general, whose 175th Wing in Baltimore received the aircraft last summer. That void is supplying the Army up where the rubber is meeting the road—the last tactical mile. The mission is so important that the original plan was to put the first C-27s in the Army. In 2009, however, Defense Secre-tary Robert M. Gates gave the aircraft exclusively to the Air Force, which said the Air Guard could perform that mission. Gates also limited the purchase of the aircraft to 38. Now, the Air Force is saying the mission is best performed by C-130s, and the C-27 is unnecessary. That recommendation, however, rankles many in the Guard who consider it an easy way for the service to save money while not hurting the active component. 28 Na tional Guard

Spartan Future

Ron Jensen

Guard leaders and elected officials promise a fight if the Air Force persists with plans to kill the C-27 cargo aircraft<br /> <br /> EVEN AS THE C-27 Spartan is proving its worth in Afghanistan, the Air Force wants to kill the new airplane flown exclusively by the Air National Guard.<br /> <br /> That was the service’s recommendation in its fiscal 2013 budget draft, which was still being considered by the Defense Department last month.<br /> <br /> But several states that either have the twin-engine turboprop cargo aircraft or are scheduled to receive it are making a case to continue fielding it to units for use at home and abroad.<br /> <br /> “The aircraft fills a void,” says Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins, the Maryland adjutant general, whose 175th Wing in Baltimore received the aircraft last summer.<br /> <br /> That void is supplying the Army up where the rubber is meeting the road—the last tactical mile.<br /> <br /> The mission is so important that the original plan was to put the first C-27s in the Army.<br /> <br /> In 2009, however, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates gave the aircraft exclusively to the Air Force, which said the Air Guard could perform that mission. Gates also limited the purchase of the aircraft to 38.<br /> <br /> Now, the Air Force is saying the mission is best performed by C-130s, and the C-27 is unnecessary.<br /> <br /> That recommendation, however, rankles many in the Guard who consider it an easy way for the service to save money while not hurting the active component.<br /> <br /> “The Air Force can look at it like, ‘Hey, we don’t have any skin in this,’” says Brig. Gen. Mark Bartman, the assistant adjutant general for Air in Ohio, home of the 179th Airlift Wing that is currently flying the airplane on missions for the Army in Afghanistan.<br /> <br /> The 179th has been there since August as part of the 702nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron in Kandahar. Col. Gary McCue, the wing commander, says the two planes they have are flying every day in support of the Army.<br /> <br /> “The Army is ecstatic over this capability, and they say it often,” he writes in an e-mail from Afghanistan.<br /> <br /> He boasts of the operational efficiency of the airplane over the alternative, the CH-47 Chinook helicopter.<br /> <br /> “Scheduling [airlift] is damned difficult,” he writes. “We believe we have nailed it, that we have come up with the right solution: A Chinook-sized fixed-wing airlifter at [one quarter] the cost of a Chinook.” <br /> <br /> He says the Chinook costs $10,000 an hour to fly, while the C-27 does it for $2,200 per hour.<br /> <br /> That difference of nearly $8,000 per hour translates to a savings of about $80,000 a day with the current tempo of the wing in Afghanistan.<br /> <br /> A presentation created by the Ohio Guard to tout the usefulness of the C-27 projects an annual savings of more than $10 million per year over the Chinook and more than $7 million over the C-130 when flown an average of four hours per day.<br /> <br /> If these figures were better known, Bartman says, “Taxpayers would be clamoring for common sense to prevail.” <br /> <br /> And while the Afghanistan deployment is proving to be a worthwhile test case, Guardsmen talk also of the airplane’s domestic use. It’s a natural, they say, for when disasters strike.<br /> <br /> “This is a battle we’ve fought for a long time,” Adkins says. “The [Defense Department] has a tendency to look outward, which it should, but not at the expense of what the needs are at home.” <br /> <br /> Lawmakers in states where the airplane has been fielded or soon will be are unhappy with the Air Force’s idea. Besides Ohio and Maryland, the plans have been to put the airplane in Connecticut, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana and North Dakota, all of which lost aircraft in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure rulings.<br /> <br /> Six adjutants general from those states have asked the Pentagon in a letter not to approve the Air Force’s plan, saying it would “negatively impact the National Guard and weaken our national and homeland defense.” <br /> <br /> In Connecticut, where four to six C-27s are supposed to replace nine C-21 Learjet aircraft in a couple years at the Bradley Air National Guard Base in East Granby, the governor and legislators are lobbying for the Air Force to fulfill that promise.<br /> <br /> Gov. Dan Malloy has personally asked Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta to put the airplane in his state.<br /> <br /> “We think that this is an important piece of equipment, both for the nation and the state,” he says.<br /> <br /> Losing the airplane means possibly losing the state’s only flying mission, along with 200 full-time jobs for Guardsmen and 450 jobs for traditional citizen-airmen. Even if the program is cancelled, Malloy wants existing Spartans put at Bradley.<br /> <br /> “I believe the original order should be acted on,” the Democrat says.<br /> <br /> Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., sees the program as critical to the Air Guard in his state.<br /> <br /> “The decision hanging in the balance right now could be a real step backwards for the state’s Air National Guard,” he says.<br /> <br /> He notes the airplane’s ability to work both overseas and at home, and its ability to fly into and out of shorter airstrips. Its flying efficiency is another positive for the Spartan, he says.<br /> <br /> “This one clearly does clear the bar,” he says. “We really need these things.” <br /> <br /> Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, made a personal plea to Panetta.<br /> <br /> “We’re building other support for it,” he says. “I think we make a good case.”<br /> <br /> He said support may branch out beyond those states directly involved.<br /> <br /> “We will continue to get other House and Senate members to weigh in,” he says.<br /> <br /> Despite all the talk, however, the C-27 seems in for a bumpy ride. In this budget-cutting environment, the bottom line may rule the day. As a new program, the Spartan hasn’t had the time to engender sentimental support or write a long history of accomplishments. It is still a legacy-in-waiting.<br /> <br /> Asked to predict the future, Bartman says, “I would say we’ve got a great case, let’s put it that way. I think we have at least a fair shot to keep it around.” <br /> <br /> Ron Jensen can be contacted at (202) 408-5885 or at ron.jensen@ngaus.org.

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