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Intra-Theater Lift

Air chief looking ‘beyond a Sherpa replacement’

From Inside the Air Force via USAF AIMPoints:

Air Force officials began commenting about the still-conceptual Light Cargo Aircraft (LCA) effort late this summer, shortly after the Army began seeking industry input on platforms that could replace its venerable C-23 Sherpa fleet. The Army has dubbed its replacement platform the Future Cargo Aircraft (FCA).

“While the Sherpa replacement is valid for them for sure,” [Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael] Moseley said the Air Force wants the Army to examine “what do you do in the future on the nonlinear battlefield and how do you survive the threat array and how do you resupply those forces.

“I would say I’m partnering with the Army on this,” the air chief said during the roundtable. Air Force officials are “looking at how to partner with an existing program that the Army’s got,” he noted, adding the two services are collectively “looking at the opportunities and options here.”

While there is certainly a lot of savings to be had by not duplicating efforts and streamlining g procurement and operating processes, the danger lies in the fact that, even if these two needs can be filled by “the same aircraft”, the needs themselves are different.

A couple of paragraphs down:

The Army is moving forward with its program at a quicker pace than the air service, and is poised to release a request for proposals for the FCA program once Pentagon acquisition czar Kenneth Krieg signs off on an acquisition strategy. The Air Force, meanwhile, is years away from formally asking industry to submit proposals to develop a new fleet of airlifters that would haul cargo and personnel within an operational theater, service officials have said. [emphasis mine]

This is begging to be yet another case of those that really need something being forced to wait because others (who don’t need it as much or at all) can take their time. It’s just plain tough to get everyone on the same page at the same time. Meanwhile, the boots on the ground are left hanging.

For example:

The two services’ LCA and FCA work has led officials to consider a range of aircraft, from vertical lift platforms to fixed-wing planes. “We’ve spent a lot of time with them looking at something beyond just a Sherpa replacement,” the four-star told reporters.

“And it makes a lot of sense across the board, even when you think about homeland defense and homeland security and think about disaster relief — and what’s going on on the Gulf Coast — to be able to operate out of smaller airfields and to be able to do that with a higher sortie generation rate seems to be an inherent good.”

So now we’re talking “we don’t even know what sort of aircraft we’re talking about”, “we want it to meet Army and Air Force needs”, “we also want it to meet Homeland Defense and Homeland Defense needs”, and “while we’re at it, let’s make sure it can do disaster relief, too”.

Sounds like the first proposals should be rolling in no later than 2010, the program will very expensive, it will go over budget, the number of planes will then be cut, and eventually the whole thing will be cancelled. Leaving the C-23 Sherpas still carrying the load.

Waiting on the Air Force (and DHS and the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard and who knows who else) could sink the Army program before it even gets started. Why not just go ahead, select, buy, and field your plane, and let the others piggyback on if the results are good?

Gen. Moseley

noted during the roundtable that he remains unconvinced an intratheater airlift actually will be needed in the 2025 time frame.

If I were the Army and I really thought the Army needed this, I would resist any and all efforts to merge the Air Force and Army programs. The Air Force will probably just cancel theirs to free up money for a couple extra F-22s, anyway.

Don’t mind me. I must be feeling a bit cynical today…

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