Supplying the Last Mile

By By Capt. Richard Barker | April 26, 2012
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Photo/Capt. Richard Barker, U.S. Army

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – With its smaller frame and dual turboprop engines, the C-27J Spartan aircraft may not look like much. However, to soldiers on the ground, the C-27J is a reliable method of receiving mission essential supplies delivered over impassible terrain within hours of making a request.

Since beginning operations in August 2011, two C-27J aircraft have been tactically controlled by the 159th and 25th Combat Aviation Brigades (CAB), performing 67 airdrops and delivering more than 277 container delivery systems containing vital supplies such as food, water, blood and ammunition to special operations forces in Afghanistan. The 25th CAB makes this support possible as a result of its solid understanding of soldiers’ needs and its tactical control of the C-27J aircraft that are operated by the 702nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.

“The C-27J was chosen to provide a simple solution to U.S. Army fixed-wing aircraft, and to provide operational and cost relief from the CH-47 Chinooks,” said Air Force Capt. Steffen Landrum, 702nd EAS liaison officer to the 25th CAB.

Maj. Craig Jayson, executive officer for 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th CAB, says with the C-27J relieving his unit’s Chinooks, the unit has the opportunity to fly more missions to forward operating bases. “We can focus on picking up personnel and equipment that are lower priority and fulfill requests that are normally canceled due to lack of resources,” said Jayson. “Overall, the C-27J increases our flexibility and ability to support more customers in a single day.”

An increase in C-27J missions also decreases the costs associated with CH-47 missions. “The hourly operational cost of a resupply mission using the Chinook is more than $7,500 an hour for the CH-47D and $9,000 an hour for the CH-47F,” said Jayson. Landrum estimates the U.S. Army has saved $30 million by conducting missions with the C-27J instead of the CH-47 Chinook.

“The C-27J has all of the benefits of a fixed wing aircraft such as speed, altitude, payload capacity and range, yet also possesses the ability to conduct many mission sets similar to rotary winged cargo aircraft,” said Sgt. Maj. Ronald Graves, 25th CAB operations sergeant major.

Additionally, the C-27J can operate in adverse weather and with limited visibility, and can land on a 2,400-foot dirt strip as opposed to the 3,000 feet a C-130 Hercules requires, Graves said. Perhaps the biggest advantage the C-27J currently offers the Army is the fact it is tactically controlled by 25th CAB commander Col. Frank Tate. The tactical control gives him the flexibility to provide immediate support to soldiers on the battlefield.

“This relationship allows for quick and dynamic tasking, when required, which greatly increases our ability to deliver nearly anything, anywhere, in support of the soldier in the fight,” said Graves.

Tate and the 25th CAB understand the needs of the soldiers on the ground.

“The requirements of the Army commander are most times speed not quantity,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Charette, director of operations for the 702nd EAS. “We often move very small amounts of soldiers, aircraft parts or blood for the needs of the frontline unit.”

Some of the C-27J’s flexibility is a result of its smaller airframe which allows it to push small portions of emergency supplies. “When you put one to two container delivery systems in a C-130 you have used 20-25 percent of its capacity, whereas the same load is 50-75 percent of the C-27J capacity. Since the Air Force is usually concerned about efficiency, the C-27J is by far the better choice for the last tactical mile,” said Charette.

The last mile can be closed quickly when the movement is planned through the 25th CAB commander.

“While the U.S. Air Force standard mission tasking process requires 96 hours of notice, the C-27J has been time on target in less than 24 hours while operating under Army tactical control,” said Landrum. “For the troops out in the field that is the ultimate flexibility.”

Not only can the C-27J deliver supplies as fast as a C-130, the cost savings are impressive too. “So far, the C-27J has saved more than $3.8 million when compared to a C-130,” said Landrum.

Capt. Richard Barker is the public affairs officer for the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) deployed to Regional Command South in Afghanistan. The 25th CABs more than 170 aircraft consists of five rotary wing and two fixed wing airframes that support ground troops with air assaults, MEDEVAC, reconnaissance, attack, defense, electronic warfare, air drops, and personnel and cargo delivery.

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