Conferees restore Army's cargo aircraft money

House and Senate conferees have agreed to give back money slashed by Senate authorizers from the Army’s coveted cargo aircraft program.

The money will come with strings attached.

Several sources say defense authorization conferees agreed to restore the money, but put it into the Air Force’s funding line, not the Army’s.

It comes, too, with the caveat that the Air Force and Army complete a joint analysis of alternatives and develop joint requirements for the program. 

At press time, Senate and House authorizers were still negotiating the conference report for the 2007 defense authorization bill. Decisions are only final once the conference report is officially filed.

The Army has said repeatedly there is already a joint requirement for the new aircraft and that the Air Force has accepted the Army’s analysis of alternatives.

The Army has an “urgent need” for the aircraft, which it was to have begun receiving 2008. The Air Force is waiting until 2010. The conditions that come with the restored funding could delay the competition for the Army’s portion of the program.

Three teams are vying for the contract. One is L-3 Communications, Alenia North America and Boeing, offering the C-27J Spartan; a the second is Raytheon and the European Aeronautics Defense Co. (EADS), offering the C-295; and the third is Lockheed Martin, which came late into the game with its C-130 J short-fuselage version. All three aircraft have been used extensively around the world.

The Army eliminated Lockheed’s proposal, prompting the defense giant to file a complaint with the Government Accountability Office. The C-130 cargo airplane has been one of the Air Force’s workhorses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Because the Army and the Air Force had similar needs for a smaller cargo aircraft that could land deep into the battlefield, the Pentagon this year directed them to join forces. They created the Joint Cargo Aircraft Program, but only after the 2007 budget request was put together.

Senate appropriators also slashed the $109 million from the Army’s JCA funds and the money would have to be restored in conference.