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Air Force, Army agree on plans for joint cargo aircraft

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 27, 2006) -- With the signing of a memorandum of agreement June 20, the vice chiefs of staff of the Air Force and the Army have agreed on a way ahead for converging the service's independent acquisition programs for a joint cargo aircraft.

Both the Air Force and the Army independently pursued options for a smaller cargo aircraft to fly intratheater airlift missions. In late 2005, the Department of Defense directed the Army's "Future Cargo Aircraft" program and the Air Force's "Light Cargo Aircraft" program be merged into the single "Joint Cargo Aircraft" program.

The agreement, signed by Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John D. W. Corley and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Richard A. Cody, spells out how the two services will pursue the new joint program and how each service will use their version of the aircraft.

In March 2005, the Joint Requirements Oversight Council approved the Army's Initial Capabilities Document. That document identified the Army's capability gap in organic airlift.

Brig. Gen. Andrew S. Dichter, Air Force deputy director for joint integration, said the JROC recognizes the joint cargo aircraft as a good option to fill the Army's organic airlift need and the Air Force's requirement to provide intratheater airlift in support of all Services. The memorandum of agreement, he said, is an important next step in filling both service's missions.

"They believe (the joint cargo aircraft) is an important capability to fill Army's organic lift," he said. "And for the Air Force we have an intratheater capability gap looming.

"So the bottom line is we are here together to tell you our two services recognize the importance of this mission, we are working together collaboratively and it is an important event today to reach this agreement," General Dichter said.

In the agreement, the Air Force and Army agree on key components of how the program will be run, to include roles and missions, command and control, sustainment, doctrine, standardization and training and integrated testing.

Part of the memorandum of agreement defined the roles of the JCA within each service. For the Army, the aircraft will provide intratheater organic airlift.

"The Army's Future Cargo Aircraft's primary mission is on-demand transport of time-sensitive/mission-critical cargo and key personnel to forward deployed Army units operating in a joint operations area," the agreement reads.

For the Air Force, the JCA will provide the service with the capability to provide intratheater airlift full time as part of the "common user pool," that is, to serve all services in theater. The Army's version of the JCA could also be used as part of the common user pool when it is not supporting Army organic airlift needs.

The agreement also spells out how many aircraft will be purchased. Initially, the services will procure 145 JCAs. The Air Force will get 70 of those aircraft, the Army will take 75. That number could change in the future, however, based on the needs of the services and the effects of that aircraft on the intratheater distribution system, said Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Mundt, director of Army aviation.

"If the Air Force is flying an airplane that does things that their current fleet does not do today, based on these key performance parameters, it will change the distribution system on the battle field," he said. "The question is: how much will it change it?"

Also in the memorandum is an agreement between the Air Force and the Army to develop a joint training strategy to ensure both Air Force and Army crewmembers receive standardized initial training on the aircraft.

The joint cargo aircraft will be a small aircraft developed for both the Army and the Air Force. It will be smaller than the Air Force's C-130 Hercules, but larger than the Army's C-23 Sherpa. Most likely, the aircraft will be a variant of an aircraft already available in the civilian sector and the manufacturer will modify it for military use.