Last month, U.S. Army Special Operations Command unveiled its new C-27J Spartan airlifter. The ground combat branch hopes the new twin-engine transport planes will help cut the cost of training Special Forces parachutists.
The new aircraft belong to USASOC’s Flight Company—commonly known as UFC—and will spend most of their time hauling jumpers on parachute exercises. All together, Army Special Forces troops parachute more than 30,000 times each year in training.
All Army commandos are jump qualified, meaning they have to know how to safely bail out of a perfectly good airplane. It’s a rarified skill that, in the real world, can help Special Forces infiltrate enemy lines. But it’s also a costly skill to impart. USASOC hopes that the new C-27s will help save some of that money.
The C-27s are replacing UFC’s old CASA 212 transports, pictured below. The ground combat branch says that the Spartans are cheaper to operate than the aging Spanish planes.
The Spartans also carry more than twice as many people as the older CASAs. More jumpers in each flight might translate to fewer flights overall … and lower budgets. Currently, UFC flies an average of 3,000 hours annually.
The new planes could potentially help out with other UFC missions. The company also shuttles the USASOC general staff around and helps out with promotional events.
USASOC had been looking to replace the CASAs for some time, but there was little money for new planes. The Army knew it would have to either start replacing the CASAs by 2013 or overhaul them for continued service.
The CASAs were used when UFC got them. Specialized units like the Air Force’s 427th Special Operations Squadron flew them on secretive missions in the early 1990s.
The Army lucked out. In 2012, the Air Force decided to retire its practically brand-new C-27Js. The flying branch had not even received all the Spartans it had bought but wanted to dispose of them in order to save money for bigger C-130s.
Congress and the American public were outraged that factory-fresh planes were going straight to the famed boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. USASOC jumped at the chance to get them before they went to the desert.
Last November, the Pentagon agreed to give seven Spartans to SOCOM for UFC to use. This included four planes still on the production line.
USASOC is clearly thrilled to have the new aircraft. However, the Spartans are also very different from the older CASAs. UFC pilots will need additional training before they can start flying missions.
Most importantly, the new aircraft has an entirely digital “glass” cockpit setup. Billy Johnson, a Special Forces aviation official, called the Spartan “a flying computer.”
Undoubtedly, UFC’s expert pilots will learn to handle the new plane quickly. As for whether the C-27 will actually save the Army any money … only time will tell.