Thinking Ahead

Boeing engineers are pursuing a concept called the Joint Common Airlift System that holds the promise of meeting the Air Force’s and Army’s future intratheater airlift needs, says Darryl Davis, president of Boeing’s Advanced Systems. During a briefing Sept. 15 at AFA’s Air & Space Conference, Davis said JCALS would be a family of transports with a common fuselage and shared features such as avionics and survivability measures, but otherwise would appear in various configurations optimized for short takeoff and landing, vertical takeoff and landing, or more conventional operations, depending on the specific needs of the two services. This approach, he said, is “not unlike what the Department of Defense did with the Joint Strike Fighter.” Additional advantages would be common training and logistics infrastructures, he said. Based on internal research done to date, Boeing thinks the family concept is feasible. “So it clearly is something that we would potentially offer,” he said. The company is currently under separate contracts with the Army and Air Force Research Lab to explore how to address their respective notional joint heavy lift and advanced joint air combat systems concepts, which may merge at some point into a joint program. Both services are studying how best to support the task of moving the Army’s future battlefield footprint, including vehicles like the Stryker and the Future Combat Systems non-line-of-sight cannon. “We see the [JCALS’] fuselage having to be large enough to accommodate [those vehicles],” Davis said, which would make it larger than the C-130Js, but smaller than the C-17s. Boeing has also broached the idea of evolving the current C-17A model into a B variant to address at least part of these future airlift needs more affordably than a completely new platform design.