October 24, 2007 By Roxana Tiron
The Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Michael Moseley, foresees no changes to the Joint Cargo Aircraft if the Air Force is granted sole control of the program.
The Air Force currently shares responsibility for the program with the Army, as per a Defense Department directive. But, questioning service roles and missions, Senate defense authorizers want to take money and control away from the Army and give both to the Air Force.
That action has prompted a vigorous defense by Army and National Guard supporters who fear the Air Force would delay or even cancel the program. Supporters contend the Joint Cargo Aircraft, also known as the C-27J, is critical for the Army and the National Guard both on the battlefield and in support of homeland defense missions.
In an interview with The Hill, Moseley indicated that he believed he could reach agreement with the Army’s chief of staff about how the program moves forward.
“I think we can come to closure on this,” Moseley said.
“[Army Chief of Staff] George Casey and I are truly committed to sit down and have a conversation” about the JCA and another controversial issue — control of medium- to high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles, Moseley said.
Congressional sources told The Hill that Air Force officials support the Senate provision that would give the service control over the JCA.
In the interview, Moseley, who will testify Wednesday at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Air Force strategic initiatives, sought to ease fears among Army planners that his service is not committed to the JCA. Moseley said he is a “big believer” in the aircraft.
“I think the country will be well-served to be able to have this kind of capability inside the Guard and inside the active components, to be able to both intra-theater lift as well as homeland security, homeland defense governor-like missions,” Moseley said.
The Army and the Air Force earlier this summer picked the C-27J, offered by a team of L-3 Communications Holdings, Alenia North America and Boeing, as the Joint Cargo Aircraft.
A key question fought over among the services relates to timing. The Army has an immediate need for the C-27J to deliver weapons and other equipment on what it refers to as “the last tactical mile” on the battlefield: dirt roads and difficult landing conditions. The new C-27J would replace the Army’s beaten-up Sherpas and the H-12 Huron aircraft.
The Air Force, though, plans to start buying the aircraft in 2010. “I am not seeing anything that would change the Army schedule” if the program goes to the Air Force, Moseley said.
“I do not see any break in schedule. I do not see any break in delivery. I do not see any difference.”
But Moseley’s statements come with a caveat. He said that he has not asked Air Force acquisition officials those specific questions because he had hoped to work out the issues with the Army’s chief.
Another critical assumption in keeping the program on its initial schedule is that the Army’s money for the program would also have to move to the Air Force.
“I think this is a big deal for governors and a big deal for the National Guard and a big deal for disaster relief and homeland security,” Moseley said. Currently, the Army is leading the JCA program executive office with 75 percent of the acquisition personnel.
The Army has defined all the requirements, developed fielding plans and set aside money for the program. Program documentation and activities have been based on an “Army-led joint process,” according to a letter written by Army Vice Chief of Staff Richard Cody to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
“If this program were to revert to an Air Force-only program, the validity of these documents and decisions will come into question,” Cody said.
The Air Force would have to increase staffing to take over the program, a process that could take up to year. It would also have to change the acquisition documentation and reprogram aircraft test activities.
“This time-consuming process could delay the program one to two years,” Cody said.
The Pentagon also opposes the Senate provision.
JCA supporters also fear that if the Air Force controls the program it may sacrifice it to buy more Lockheed Martin C-130J cargo aircraft.
But Moseley asserted that wouldn’t happen.
“The C-130J is not a replacement for the C-27J,” he said.
“I do not think they [the C-27J and C-130J] are mutually exclusive,” he said. “Is there a most operationally useful mix of C-130J and C-27s? The answer to that is yes.”
There is a total requirement of 125 JCAs, Moseley said. He added that international air forces could also buy the C-27.
Moseley’s take on the JCA could be met with some distrust by certain House members during the hearing.
An effort in the House to eliminate the Senate provision is gaining steam. More than 50 lawmakers have signed on to a letter opposing the measure that is expected to be sent to conferees soon. Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and Reps. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) and Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) are leading the lobbying effort in the House. In the same vein, Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) are also working on a letter to conferees.
The controversy over the JCA is not the only heated issue Moseley may address in Wednesday’s hearing.
The Air Force has been pressing Congress to allow it to retire up to 30 Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy aircraft, arguing that it could buy more Boeing C-17 aircraft. Several Air Force-commissioned studies indicated that the Air Force should maintain a mix of about 300 C-5 and C-17 aircraft.
The parochial battle in Congress over these two aircrafts — the C-17 is built principally in California and the C-5 is assembled in Georgia — has complicated the issue on Capitol Hill.
Several senators have raised concerns that the Air Force may be encouraging Boeing to keep its C-17 production lines open.
“I feel pinched between the people in this town that are C-5 advocates and the people in this town that are C-17 advocates when I am trying to say there is an empirical analysis here and the reality of language that won’t let us retire the C-5s, the reality of [C-5] modernization programs now becoming very expensive and the reality of burning up the existing C-17s at higher rates because we are using them in combat,” Moseley said.
“That is the swirling circle of all of that.”