Draft memo may trigger Army-Air Force rift over JCA

A draft memo from the Pentagon’s Program Analysis and Evaluation (PA&E) office could create a potential clash between the Army and the Air Force over who will control the multi-billion-dollar Joint Cargo Aircraft.

The working memo, which according to several sources is ultimately intended for Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England, is mining opportunities to improve operational efficiency by consolidating certain support functions under a single service.

The memo directs the Air Force to develop a plan in collaboration with the United States Transportation Command, the Army and the Navy under which it would consolidate the acquisition, administration, operation and sustainment of all fixed-wing cargo or passenger aircraft.

That list includes the Army’s much-coveted Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) as well as all operational support airlift aircraft and the VIP special airlift mission aircraft.

The PA&E memo, which reflects the Air Force’s roles and mission priorities, directs the services to put together plans that will describe how and when the transfer of assets, supporting manpower, and associated infrastructure will occur, as well as the programming and budgeting necessary for such a change.

The services are directed to give their input to the Joint Staff, which in turn will consolidate the information and present the implementation plans to the Deputy’s Advisory Working Group (DAWG) by April 30. The memo also addresses the consolidation of all water support craft, such as the Joint High Speed Vessel, under the Navy.

Several sources have indicated that this is the Air Force’s opportunity to gain full control of the program before a contract award as part of the JCA.

At the direction of Pentagon acquisition czar Kenneth Krieg, the Army and the Air Force signed a memorandum of agreement and created a joint program office for the JCA last year after Pentagon leadership determined that the two services had similar needs for a smaller cargo aircraft that could land deep into the battlefield.

Krieg would not comment about the debate to have the Air Force gain full control of fixed-wing cargo aircraft. “It’s always a challenge when you look at an enterprise as complex as this one,” he said during a press briefing last week. “How do you figure out how to focus on centers of excellence — how do you do that and still maintain the equities of other players who are going to need the product?”

Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a Pentagon spokesman, said that it is not “appropriate” for the Pentagon to comment on a draft memo.
The working memo comes just a couple months before the joint program office selects the aircraft that the Army will start buying first. 

Two industry teams are competing for the contract award: L-3 Communications, Finmeccanica’s Alenia North America Global Military Aircraft Systems and Boeing are offering the C27J Spartan, while Raytheon and EADS Casa North America are offering the C-295. Both aircraft have been used extensively around the world.

The draft memo, which is not signed, could also add more fuel to the ongoing debate over which service should control the JCA and other airlift assets.

Behind closed doors and in several forums, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley has said in recent weeks that the Air Force could pull out if the aircraft that suits the service best is not selected, according to sources.

“Formally, the Air Force agrees with the Army’s initial vision, but is still defining its own final requirements,” Christopher Bolkcom, an analyst with the Congressional Research Service, said at a House Armed Services Committee hearing two weeks ago.

“An issue for Congress is whether the Army could begin acquiring the joint cargo aircraft only to find that the Air Force’s final requirements are not easily met by the aircraft chosen.”

Bolkcom, who called the program a “shotgun marriage” between the Army and the Air Force, warned that if the final requirements do not fit the aircraft selected in May it would mean costly retrofits or even the need for a different aircraft.

Congress in the 2007 Defense Authorization Act directed the services to complete several mobility studies, including the so-called intra-theater lift capabilities study led by the Joint Staff. That study is not yet completed and source selection on the program is scheduled around May.

The program has already run into serious hiccups in Congress: Last year, Senate defense authorizers and appropriators slashed the Army’s funding request for the JCA almost entirely, only to restore it later in conference with strings attached.