The C-27J APO was located in AirSta Elizabeth City to leverage engineering, maintenance, and program management resources already at the Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center (ALC). The Air Force 309th Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan pulls Spartan aircraft from desert storage and manages the process that leads to a flight clearance. As part of the process, a Coast Guard regeneration team in Arizona reviews aircraft histories, configuration details, and installed components, and performs inspections, maintenance actions, and a flight check before Spartans are released to fly to North Carolina.
Training to fly the Spartan also now requires the support of the aircraft maker. The Coast Guard awarded a contract in June to Alenia North America for C-27J training simulator access. Emergency-procedures training is now conducted in Pisa, Italy.
The APO expects a total of four Spartans regenerated and delivered in FY 2015, four in FY 2016, and five in FY 2017. The Coast Guard APO uses ALC facilities at AirSta Elizabeth City to work on the Spartan and has acquired more space at the Elizabeth City Regional Airport to perform programmed depot maintenance on MRSA and LRSA.
With a 70,000-pound maximum weight, the Spartan gives the Coast Guard a new surveillance aircraft sized between the 36,000-pound maximum weight of the Ocean Sentry and the 175,000-pound maximum weight of the Super Hercules. With speeds to 290 knots and endurance of up to 12 hours, the Spartan can get on station quicker and loiter longer than the Ocean Sentry medium range surveillance aircraft. The C-27J transfer paused deliveries of the Airbus Ocean Sentry at the 18th airframe, halfway through the planned 36-aircraft program with obvious savings in acquisition costs. How to balance life cycle costs of the new MRSA with those of new Super Hercules aircraft remains to be determined by the Coast Guard fleet-mix analysis.
By design, the Spartan and Super Hercules share a high degree of propulsion and avionics commonality – Lockheed Martin teamed with the C-27J manufacturer before offering its own C-130J for the JCA competition. Alenia Aermacchi spokesman Marco Valerio Bonelli stated in an email that the twin Rolls-Royce AE 2100D2 turboprops of the Spartan have about 90 percent commonality with the four AE 2100D3 engines on the Super Hercules. Rolls-Royce has offered a conversion kit to turn one engine variant into the other. Both the HC-27J and HC-130J use six-bladed, all-composite Dowty R-391-F/10 propellers.
The MRSA and LRSA likewise share avionics to mitigate the impact of a new type on the Coast Guard support system. Lockheed Martin mission computers, L-3 multipurpose display units, and other hardware are the same on both aircraft. Both communications/navigation suites share automatic direction finder, Traffic Collision Avoidance System, identification friend or foe, and Tactical Air Navigation line replaceable units. Weather radars on both aircraft are versions of the Northrop Grumman AN/APN-241.
Exactly how much commonality exists between Spartan and Super Hercules avionics, including software releases, is subject to analysis. Alenia Aermacchi was the C-27J systems integrator. Spartan avionics are tied together by nine MIL-STD 1553 databuses with the dual mission computers serving as the main processors. The system also provides ARINC 429 interfaces, and a Spartan avionics improvement program now in development will add ethernet and ARINC 708 video interfaces.
Also under the service’s analysis is how to integrate Coast Guard mission systems into the new medium range surveillance aircraft. The Ocean Sentry now in the fleet integrates a Telephonics APS-143(V)3C Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar, FLIR Systems Star Safire III infrared/electro-optical gimbal, and Saab R4A Automatic Identification System with a removable Mission System Pallet (MSP) carrying operator controls and displays. Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training delivered the last of 17 MSPs for the Ocean Sentry fleet in August 2014.
A Coast Guard sensor suite has yet to be identified for the Spartan, but the aircraft manufacturer has offered a C-27J SAR version to Canada with a 360-degree SELEX Seaspray 7500 radar. The Italian air force operates the MC-27J Praetorian with the Wescam MX-15Di EO/IR gimbal. Alenia Aermacchi notes the Spartan cargo cabin can easily accommodate a palletized mission system and rescue aids. The GAO cautioned that integrating C4ISR systems into the Spartan will pose its own challenges and depends in part on access to information from the original aircraft manufacturer and integrator.
Training to fly the Spartan also now requires the support of the aircraft maker. The Coast Guard awarded a contract in June to Alenia North America for C-27J training simulator access. Emergency-procedures training is now conducted in Pisa, Italy. The Spartan APO initially sent two Coast Guard pilots to Italy to earn their Spartan ratings in support of the regeneration process. The Coast Guard has since initiated a formal HC-27J training program based on a JCA analysis done by L-3 Communications for DOD and subsequently adapted to Coast Guard missions. In August, the Spartan APO Standardization Branch in Elizabeth City began a three-month pilot transition course to introduce Coast Guard crews to the new MRSA.
Spartan training begins at the Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama, then moves to the APO in North Carolina for instrument and night flying. The training program culminates in a co-pilot qualification. Subsequent cockpit time will advance co-pilots through first-pilot, aircraft commander, and flight instructor/examiner qualifications. The Spartan APO is meanwhile working to develop a logistics program, including acquisition of spare parts and training devices. Test and evaluation plans will also be developed and executed as the Coast Guard’s new medium range surveillance aircraft transitions from basic acquisition to missionization.
This article first appeared in the Coast Guard Outlook 2015-2016 Edition.