Hercules vs. Spartan

The proposed reduction in the number of C-27 Spartan Joint Cargo Aircraft from 78 to 38 has to do with a surfeit of C-130 Hercules theater airlifters, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The Pentagon boss told lawmakers during a House hearing May 13 (see above) that there are “over 200 C-130s that are available and uncommitted” that could fulfill the tactical airlift mission. And, he said, “The C-27 has half the payload of a C-130 and costs two-thirds as much; it can use exactly one percent more runways or airstrips than the C-130.” Gates called the notion that cutting the JCA numbers would hinder the National Guard from performing its homeland mission “not sustainable.” National Guard officials have testified that the requirement for the Spartan is still 78 aircraft. Although Gates does not agree, he said it would be a matter for the Quadrennial Defense Review. Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) reminded Gates that an Institute for Defense Analyses study concluded that the “JCA is a very important, cost-effective ingredient” for these “long-term, low-level engagements.” Surprisingly, Gates replied that the JCA decision really sprang from the Army and Air Force, saying, “We were basically bystanders on that one.” That said, he acknowledged that the Air Force and the Army still must work out the details for the last-tactical-mile mission. Gates added, “The reality is … there are going to have to be changes in the Air Force culture” about the tactical airlift mission.