Minister for Defence Stephen Smith and Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare today announced that the Government had agreed to purchase 10 Alenia C-27J Spartan Battlefield Airlift aircraft at a cost of $1.4 billion.
The C-27J will replace the Caribou aircraft which was retired from service in 2009 after a career spanning more than four decades. The C-27J complements the capabilities of the C-130 and C-17 aircraft and uses common infrastructure and aircraft systems such as engines, avionics and the cargo handling systems.
The acquisition of the C-27J will significantly improve the ADF’s ability to move troops, equipment and supplies. The C-27J has the capacity to carry significant load and still access small, soft, narrow runways that are too short for the C-130J or runways which are unable to sustain repeated use of larger aircraft.
In Australia, the C-27J can access over 1900 airfields compared to around 500 for the C-130 Hercules aircraft. In our region, the C-27J will be able to access over 400 airfields compared to around 200 for the C-130 Hercules aircraft.
These aircraft will provide battlefield airlift but are also capable of conducting airlift in our region. They will be able to operate from rudimentary airstrips in Australia and overseas and will be able to support humanitarian missions in remote locations.
The flexibility of the C-27J allows it to undertake a wide range of missions from delivering ammunition to front line troops to undertaking aero-medical evacuation of causalities.
A Battlefield Airlifter needs to be able to operate in a high threat environment. The C-27J with its missile warning systems, electronic self-protection, secure communications and battlefield armour provides protection from threats ranging from small arms to highly lethal man portable air defence systems (MANPADS).
The C-27J was assessed by Defence as the aircraft which best met all the essential capability requirements and provides the best value for money. It was assessed as being able to fly further, faster, higher while carrying more cargo and requiring a smaller runway than the other aircraft under consideration, the Airbus Military C-295.
The acquisition of the 10 C-27J aircraft with associated support equipment will be conducted through a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) arrangement with the United States (US) at a cost of around $1.4 billion. The first aircraft are expected to be delivered in 2015 with the Initial Operating Capability scheduled for the end of 2016.
Initial logistic support, including training for aircrew and maintenance personnel will be provided through the FMS program, utilising the system that has been established in the US. Defence will seek a separate agreement with the C-27J manufacturer, Alenia, in order to ensure that RAAF can operate, maintain and modify the aircraft throughout its planned life.
Since the retirement of the Caribou fleet in 2009, Australia’s military airlift capability has comprised C-17 heavy lift aircraft, C-130 H and J model Hercules aircraft, the Interim Light Transport aircraft (8 Beechcraft King Air 350 aircraft) and Navy and Army helicopters.
In the Budget the Government announced the retirement of the C-130H, which will proceed in an orderly fashion over the course of the year.