Leonardo (Alenia) C-27 Spartan Medium-Lift Tactical Transport Aircraft
The Alenia C-27J Spartan is a further evolution of the original Alenia G.222 transport line.
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The Alenia C-27 "Spartan" is a medium-lift transport and joint development effort founded by Italy's Alenia and America's Lockheed Martin. The aircraft is largely based on the existing - and modestly successful - Alenia G.222 twin-engined medium transport which first flew in 1970 and was accepted into service by various countries beginning in 1978 (including the Italian Air Force). Production of the type spanned from 1970 to 1993 to which 111 examples were ultimately produced. The original G.222 was developed to a NATO requirement which further evolved through an Italian Air Force requirement that produced a global alternative to the 1950s-era American Lockheed C-130 "Hercules" transport. The G.222 offered up similar medium-hauling capabilities and short-runway operation while borrowing many of the C-130s successful design qualities (including its high-mounted wings and raised empennage for ease of loading/unloading and approved ground clearance).
In 1990, the United States Air Force (USAF) sought a quick-reacting, medium-class hauler through its "Rapid Response Intra-Theater Airlifter" (RRITA) initiative and took on deliveries of the Italian G.222 as the C-27A "Spartan". These G.222s were given American-centric avionics by Chrysler Aerospace and based out of Howard Air Force Base in Panama. In 1995, Alenia and Lockheed Martin formally joined forces to incorporate the "all-glass" cockpit and General Electric T64G engines (powering four-bladed propeller assemblies) being designed for the upcoming C-130J "Super Hercules" into the existing G.222 airframe. This joint initiative - under the new "Lockheed Martin Alenia Tactical Transport Systems" (LMATTS) brand label - began the equally-new "C-27J" designation which appeared in 1996 (the Spartan designation was retained) and, by the end of development, the intended General Electric powerplants have been given up in favor of the improved Rolls-Royce AR 2100 turboprop series while the original four-bladed propellers were dropped in favor of a newer six-bladed design. The resulting configuration produced an aircraft that was superior to the original Alenia G.222 design, able to fly faster and farther than previously intended. Serial production ensued to which the C-27J entered service with the Italian Air Force in 2006.
In 2006, Lockheed abandoned the joint partnership with Alenia to distance itself from the competing C-27J and attempt to sell the modernized C-130J "Super Hercules" to the USAF/US Army for its new "Joint Cargo Aircraft" (JCA) requirement. Competitor Raytheon partnered with EADS North America to showcase the Spanish-made CASA C-295 twin-engine transport while Alenia partnered with Boeing and L-3 Communications to produce the "Global Military Aircraft Systems" (GMAC) consortium in promoting the C-27J Spartan. The Pentagon went on to select the C-27J and first flight of an American C-27J was recorded on June 17th, 2008.
The US Army is slated to receive up to 75 C-27J airframes while the USAF is expecting its order to total some 70 units. Production of American C-27Js will take place locally at Cecil Field, Florida. To date (2012), there are 38 C-27J Spartans on order to the United States military. Italy will support 12 examples as will Greece. Romania contracted for seven examples while Mexico and Morocco have penciled in four apiece. Three will go to Bulgaria and Lithuania each while Australia will become another foreign recipient (with as many as ten). Canada is reportedly interested in the breed as well while Slovakia is intent on procuring a pair of examples. India is interested in 16 such aircraft while Taiwan seeks six and the Philippines three. Deliveries of many of these C-27J systems on order will begin or have begun in 2012 with future orders expected from now until 2015 and possibly beyond.
Specifications for the C-27J include a cargo-hauling capacity of 60 combat-ready infantry, 46 airborne troopers, or 36 medical litters with applicable staff. Full payload capacity is some 25,350lbs. The aircraft sports a running length of 74.5 feet, a wingspan of just over 94 feet and a height of 31.7 feet. Power is served through 2 x Rolls-Royce AE2100-D2A turboprop engines developing 4,600 horsepower each. Maximum speed is 374 miles per hour with a cruise speed of 362 miles per hour. Range is out to 6,000 miles on full fuel load and no cargo. The aircraft can hit service ceilings of 30,000 feet.
The C-27J line is further evolved in the MC-27J "multi-mission" platform (to include a gunship sub-variant) and the EC027 "Jedi" intended as a dedicated Electronic Warfare Aircraft (EWA) - the latter competing directly with the Lockheed EC-130H "Compass Call". The AC-27J "Stinger II" was a proposed dedicated (though ultimately abandoned) gunship initiative intended for both the USAF and US Army though lack of funds led to its demise. The C-27J "Pretorian" is an Italian Air Force program that is seeking to develop a special forces multi-mission variant fitted with specialized communications and countermeasures equipment as well as various armament options for the close-air support role.
Alenia Aermacchi and Alliant Techsystems revealed its MC-27J gunship conversion kit in the summer of 2012. The kit essentially revolves around the installation of a pallet mounting a 30mm GAU-23 Bushmaster cannon that can be added to the airframe of any existing C-27J in a matter of hours, making it a financially sound and logistically-friendly solution for C-27J operators. The cannon fires from its fixed position out of the side of the banking aircraft with the gunnery crew utilizing a basic sighting system in its initial form. Later testing will introduce a more advanced optical tracking system for increased flexibility and improved accuracy. In addition to the proposed 30mm cannon fitting, the MC-27J will also integrate support for the launching of Hellfire anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) and 2.75" rocket pods. In this way, the Alenia product will certainly threaten Lockheed's market share in the medium-lift category - considering its fleet of C-130 Hercules are coming to their useful technological ends in the next decade or so.
In early 2013, it was announced that the USAF would be mothballing its 21-strong new C-27J fleet due to expenses. These may be passed on to the US Coast Guard, which is in the market for some fourteen aircraft of similar scope, or to the Forestry Service for fire-fighting use. Seven C-27Js have been committed to US Army Special Operations COMmand (SOCOM) for parachute training.