The windfall that gave the U.S. Coast Guard 14 C-27J Spartan maritime patrol aircraft has enabled a complicated fleet and systems integration exercise. Coast Guard Headquarters plans to stand up the first operational Spartan unit at Air Station (AirSta) Sacramento in 2016. “Laydown” for other air stations depends on a fixed-wing fleet-mix analysis that matches Spartan, HC-144B Ocean Sentry, and HC-130J Super Hercules aircraft to mission needs, geography, and budgets, plus environmental, engineering, and logistics factors. Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) is meanwhile under Coast Guard contract to figure out how to equip the Spartan to gather and process surveillance information it can share with other air, surface, and shore users.
Like the Ocean Sentry and Super Hercules, the networked Spartan will add details to the Common Operating Picture that gives the Coast Guard maritime domain awareness for homeland security, drug and migrant interdiction, disaster response, and search and rescue (SAR).
Mothballed by the U.S. Air Force and gifted to the Coast Guard, the Alenia Aermacchi Spartans bring more speed, endurance, and payload to the medium range surveillance aircraft (MRSA) fleet. They also save the Coast Guard the planned cost of 18 smaller Ocean Sentry aircraft. (See “Multi-sensor Sentry”.) A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report in March nevertheless cautioned that the savings come at the cost of fewer, more expensive flying hours and suggested a new look at Coast Guard plans to buy 22 Super Hercules long range surveillance aircraft (LRSA). The fleet-mix study aims to balance aircraft capability and life cycle costs over 30 years with a revised Mission Need Statement and Concept of Operations.
The GAO also noted that the cost of Spartan repairs, spare parts, mission-related modifications, and other support costs remain uncertain. The transferred aircraft have no prime contractor responsible for “missionization,” integrated logistics support, and training. The service itself calculated the cost of making the Spartan fleet operational at $600 million, including spares, training, and mission equipment. Coast Guard Headquarters via public affairs officer Lisa Novak says the final NAVAIR report by early 2016 should give the Coast Guard options to integrate radar, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors, and other command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems into the Spartan.
Like the Ocean Sentry and Super Hercules, the networked Spartan will add details to the Common Operating Picture that gives the Coast Guard maritime domain awareness for homeland security, drug and migrant interdiction, disaster response, and search and rescue (SAR). The Spartan will use the same Minotaur mission management architecture now being integrated into the Super Hercules to send EO/IR imagery and radar tracks to other Homeland Security and Defense Departments users. During the 2012 Rim of the Pacific Exercises, a prototype Navy Minotaur multi-intelligence correlation algorithm-synchronized aircraft mission processors in Hawaii to a ground station at Patuxent River, Maryland. The same architecture repackaged in the Ocean Sentry and Spartan medium range surveillance aircraft promises synergy and seamless interoperability across Coast Guard platforms.
Mission systems integration and testing on a prototype HC-27J will be undertaken by the Coast Guard Minotaur Mission System Integration Lab (M2SIL) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Developmental and operational testing will be managed by the Navy Commander, Operational Test and Evaluation forces. The Coast Guard initially expected an HC-27J prototype integrated in 2017 and a Spartan fleet fully equipped by 2022. The ongoing fleet mix and NAVAIR analyses are nevertheless keys to integrating the Spartan into the Coast Guard, and a missionization schedule for the HC-27J has yet to be determined.
Near New and Cast Off
Even without its Coast Guard C4ISR suite, the basic Spartan with its night vision goggle-compatible cockpit, integrated communications/navigation suite, and weather radar can move cargo and people. The pressurized, short takeoff and landing transport hauls approximately 25,000 pounds of payload and is big enough to accommodate 60 passengers or 24 litter patients and four attendants.
The Spartan was chosen in 2007 as the intra-theater joint cargo aircraft (JCA) of the U.S. Army and Air Force, sized to carry people and palletized cargo to forward operating locations with unprepared landing strips too small for the Air Force C-130 Hercules. Spartan manufacturer Alenia Aermacchi partnered with L-3 Communications to sell and support the JCA. Plans called for 54 Spartans for the Air Force and 24 for the Army.
The first of the Italian-built JCAs flew in 2008, but Army budget cuts pushed program management to the Air Force in 2009. The Air Force 702nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron flew direct-support missions for Army units in Afghanistan for 10 months in 2011 and 2012. Stateside fielding plans put Spartans in Air National Guard units, but sequester budget cuts and projected operating costs made the Spartans unsustainable Air Force assets. The Department of Defense (DOD) stopped the JCA acquisition at 21 Spartans, and near-new aircraft flew to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, for desert storage.
The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act transferred 14 Spartans to the U.S. Coast Guard and seven to U.S. Army Special Operations Command. The first “regenerated” Coast Guard C-27J arrived at AirSta Elizabeth City, North Carolina, in November 2014. The service now has 13 Spartans in its inventory, three at the HC-27J Asset Project Office (APO) in Elizabeth City, three in the regeneration process at Davis-Monthan, and seven still preserved by the Air Force. The 14th aircraft, used for parts and held by L-3 Platform Integration in Waco, Texas, will be delivered to the Air Force and transferred to the Coast Guard in FY 2016. L-3 Communications served as the prime contractor for the U.S. Air Force’s Spartan program and 10 foreign military sales Spartans subsequently delivered to Australia, in which it installed aircraft survivability equipment in otherwise complete aircraft delivered to the Air Force. Though L-3 recently received a contract to missionize the Coast Guard Super Hercules, the company’s role in Spartan integration, if any, has not been determined.