The Pentagon is working out the details of a plan to equip the Afghanistan Air Force with four C-130H transport planes.
“The USAF has developed a strategy to aggressively pursue delivering two C-130H aircraft in late CY 2013 and two additional C-130H aircraft before the end of CY 2014,” Ed Gulick, Air Force spokesman, wrote in a statement. He added that in the second quarter of this year Afghan pilots will travel to “various locations” in the U.S. for training on the planes.
“Air Force leadership recognizes the need to promptly address the [Afghan Air Force] requirement for medium airlift capability, and is committed to provide an effective and sustainable airlift capability for our Afghan partners as soon as possible,” Gulick wrote.
In December, the Air Force decided not to renew a contract with Finmeccanica subsidiary Alenia to refurbish C-27A transport planes for Afghanistan, citing poor performance from the Italian company. Although the contract, which expires in March, called for 20 of the transport planes to be delivered, the aircraft spent much of the last year grounded due to maintenance issues.
“C-130s will let Afghanis start to build their own backbone of responsive airlift to move troops and supplies where they need them to enforce stability,” Rebecca Grant, president of Iris Independent Research, wrote in an email. “With C-130s, they can use the huge network of over 70 airfields and strips built up by the Coalition and do airdrop too.”
“There are capabilities you want with a smaller plane — greater flexibility in payload and easier airfield access,” Richard Aboulafia, an analyst with the Teal Group, said. But the C-130s are “very capable” and can carry more cargo.
“It really depends on the mission they have in mind,” he said. “Having a mix of both might not be a bad thing at all.”
However, the C-130s have the bonus of being the transport plane of choice for the U.S. Air Force, which Aboulafia notes might simplify training and logistics between the two services.
The decision to move toward the C-130 is just the latest in a running battle between the two transport planes. In President Obama’s fiscal 2013 budget, the Air Force proposed canceling the C-27J program after concluding each plane would cost $308 million over its lifetime. Members of Congress have challenged the service on that estimate, citing previous Air Force studies that put the lifetime cost as low as $111 million per plane.