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MCTS Missions: A mission for the Leonardo C-27J?

Leonardo (Alenia) C-27J

One of various challenges in regional military cooperation in sub-Sahara Africa is poor inter-operability between Air Forces in terms of hardware specifications and capabilities. Just considering tactical- and strategic airlift capabilities alone, Africa hosts systems originating from all the current military airlifter manufacturers, the most common suppliers originating from the United States, Russia (predominantly ex-USSR stock), the European Union, and China. Based on current flying examples, only a few platforms offer inter-operability with NATO allies, the most dominant platforms enabling such cooperation being:

  • Lockheed C-130

  • Airbus C-295

  • Leonardo C-27J

Looking at sub-Sahara Africa, only eight countries operate the C-130 Hercules (older models) in predominantly Commonwealth aligned states, and the Airbus C-295 is operated by only two sub-Sahara Africa air forces within traditionally French aligned territories. However, the rising star in terms of medium tactical transport aircraft is the Leonardo (ex-Alenia Aermacchi) C-27J with Kenya being the newest and largest operator, followed by Zambia which is also a major operator of other Chinese aviation hardware. One of the reasons why the Leonardo C-27J is turning into a growing success is due to Alenia’s decision to build the C-27J as a new product, incorporating major modernization modifications and production improvements compared to its look-alike predecessor, the Alenia C-27A (Alenia G.222). That said, the C-27J heritage in terms of the Alenia C-27A (Aeritalia G.222) is one of the reasons why the Leonardo C-27J has an incorrectly perceived poor reputation (further fuelled by competitor developed disinformation). Based on experience with the type in service with the [short lived] Afghan Air Force as operator of twenty Alenia C-27A’s, the Leonardo (Alenia) C-27J suffered major reputational damages caused by maintenance challenges and spares shortages as a result of an Italian arms embargo imposed on Afghanistan which affected the serviceability of the older C-27A fleet (ex-USAF), as well as associated costs of maintenance which were inflated as a result of OEM restrictions. This situation also strained relations with the USAF, which would eventually haunt Leonardo in years to come during the eventual USAF C-27J procurement program. However, even though the C-27J resembles the design of the older C-27A (G.222), they are in fact two different aircraft with little comparison. What differentiates the C-27J from all other similar types is its designed commonality with the Lockheed Martin C-130J, sharing similar powerplants, cockpit avionics, and mission systems. This idea was a modernized extension of the C-27A ‘experiment’ based on systems commonality with the then Lockheed C-130H model. To better understand the current problems that exist in terms of tactical airlift capabilities (which inspired the development of the C-27J system), we need to understand the evolution of the MCTS (Mission Critical, Time Sensitive) missions concept as a means of improving both efficiency and effectiveness in intra-theatre airlift transportation in support of frontline forces.

Brief History of the Leonardo C-27J:

The C-27J, a product of the Italian aircraft manufacturer Alenia in partnership with Lockheed Martin before the Leonardo take-over in 2016, was developed in response to a 2005 US Army (Note: Not USAF) requirement for a Future Combat Aircraft (FCA) to replace the US Army fleet of ageing C-23 Sherpa aircraft for the envisioned purpose of ‘direct support’ to soldiers on the ground (meaning: closer to the front lines than a USAF C-130J would normally operate). At the time, the USAF was an operator of the Alenia C-27A (modified G.222), of which most aircraft were put into long-term storage for various reasons ranging from changing funding priorities, technical support challenges, and doctrine discrepancies in terms of utilisation. During 2006 the USAF decided to join the US Army to transform the program to the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA). On June 13, 2007, the Pentagon announced the C-27J (modelled on the systems found on the C-130J), to fill the US Army FCA requirement. Initially, the plan was for 75 aircraft to be procured by the US Army to equip Army National Guard units, while the USAF would procure 70 units for exclusive use by the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) and the Air National Guard (ANG) respectively. On June 17, 2008, the first C-27J undertook its maiden flight.

During May 2009, the Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, transferred the C-27J program from the US Army to the USAF which effectively ended all hopes that the C-27J would replace the US Army’s 42 C-23B/C Sherpas. Consequently the USAF order was increased to 78 units, and the US Army order was cut to zero. During 2010 the USAF order was cut down to 38 units, although in the end the USAF only purchased 21 aircraft. During 2011, two C-27J’s were deployed to Afghanistan for a 10 months operational trial period to test the aircraft capabilities under existing operational conditions. Between August 2011 and June 2012, the C-27Js executed more than 3200 missions transporting over 25,000 passengers, and 1400 tons of cargo. Via tactical control of the C-27Js, the US Army was able to employ helicopters more efficiently, splitting missions between the two platforms based on their relative strengths and capabilities. This deployment was a great success, having proved the system as highly capable in support of various challenging missions not specifically suitable for the C-130J, especially in support of Special Operations Forces. However, due to political factors and the introduction of the Budget Control Act, 2011, the program was abruptly ended by the USAF while the two operational aircraft were still deployed in Afghanistan, and upon return to the US, the C-27J airlift squadrons were disbanded, and all aircraft were put into ‘Type 1000’ storage in near-airworthy condition in Arizona. To make things even worse, Alenia informed the USAF that it would not support any of the retired C-27J aircraft if sold to another country.

Based on insider information, and other activities relating to the USAF C-27A fleet transferred to the newly established Afghan Air Force, the following [not officially confirmed] reasons contribute to the failed C-27J program in both the US Army and USAF:

1. Since the establishment of the USAF on September 18, 1947, there has always been some form of animosity between the USAF and the US Army regarding organic aviation capabilities required by the US Army to remain within its own structure in terms of airlift and close air support (CAS). In terms of airlift, the USAF considers airlift as either Strategic Airlift (Inter-theatre Transportation) using mainly C-5B/M and C-17A, and Tactical Airlift (Intra-theatre Transportation) using mainly C-130 variants. Based on lessons learnt during the past two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan, the USAF further refined its Military Airlift Transportation Service (MATS) based on the commercial ‘hub-and-spoke’ network concept to improve transportation efficiencies, along with a defined procedure for prioritization of airlift requirements. However, this created problems for the US Army from an Army operational priorities perspective. In short, the US Army considers airlift requirements as follows:

Strategic: Inter-theatre airlift transportation using a combination of military (Boeing C-17) and civilian (Boeing 747 Freighter comparison) airlift capabilities to in-theatre logistics hubs (main distribution centres).

Operational: Intra-theatre airlift transportation using mainly military tactical airlifters (Lockheed Martin C-130 variants) to the regional distribution centres of intra-theatre Regional Commands.

Tactical: Airlift transportation within the Regional Command AOR using smaller tactical airlifters ranging from fixed wing (Leonardo C-27J) and rotary wing (Boeing CH-47 Chinook) depending on runways and landing zones availability and conditions, supplying Forward Operations Bases (FOB’s).

The fact that the US Army was operating a fleet of C-23 Sherpa fixed wing aircraft was always considered a problem by the USAF which considers itself as the US DoD’s sole custodian of all fixed wing aircraft requirements of the US Army, which was one of the reasons why the USAF never supported the US Army efforts in upgrading its small tactical airlifter capability in the form of a more capable Leonardo (Alenia) C-27J without any USAF involvement. Therefore, the USAF will always be of the opinion that the responsibility of providing tactical airlift to the US Army will remain the responsibility of the USAF, even though the USAF does not consider small tactical airlifters such as the C-27J as a requirement from a doctrine perspective which further justifies the US Army requirement for such capability. This creates for a very difficult situation for the US Army which still requires such a capability in the form of the C-27J to support its Special Operations Forces better, why a new approach was devised to reinstate such lost capabilities via SOCOM (Special Operations Command), who has the authority to demand specialised mission capabilities independent of the requirements (and opinions) of the regular arms of service. In the meantime, this lack of capability had to be contracted by the US Army from defense contractors at greater expense.

2. During September 2008, the US DoD purchased 20 retired Italian Air Force G.222 for delivery to the then newly established Afghan Air Force as the USAF designated C-27A. Of these 20 units, a total of 16 were delivered to the Afghan Air Force (AAF), and 4 units remained in Rammstein, Germany. At the time of purchase, the aircraft were already around 30 years old and consequently required extensive modernization and refurbishment to return the fleet to airworthy status. The problem, however, was that the Afghan Air Force received an aircraft type which was already obsolete, consequently causing major serviceability issues in terms of limited availability of spare parts and technical support. To add further challenges to the procurement, the initial purchase indicated the end-user as the USAF for the reason that the Italian Government had imposed an arms embargo against Afghanistan. Upon delivery of these systems to the Afghan Air Force, the Italian Government restricted the OEM (Alenia) from providing any further support to these aircraft due to possible arms embargo violations. This situation caused for strained relations between the US and Italy at the diplomatic level, which occurred during the same time period when the US DoD was phasing in the C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) into service. Eventually the Afghan Air Force fleet was grounded, with the USAF then opting to replace the AAF C-27A’s with retired USAF Lockheed Martin C-130H aircraft. Coincidently, the newly developed Alenia C-27J induction into USAF service also came to an abrupt end during the same time period, with ‘budget cuts’ being blamed for the immediate [unjustified] withdrawal from USAF service of the whole C-27J fleet. The grounded AAF Alenia C-27A (G.222) fleet of 16 aircraft were then sold for a total amount of US$ 32,000 to an Afghan construction company as scrap metal.

In summary, the reputational challenges that still plagues the Leonardo C-27J until today in terms of its turbulent introduction into USAF service has nothing to do with aircraft system’s reliability, performance nor operational capabilities, but instead relates to constantly changing US DoD spending requirements and unnecessary inter-services rivalries in terms of defining operational priorities and doctrine interpretations, as well as political interferences and geopolitical game playing. From a systems perspective, the Leonardo C-27J was designed to supplement the Lockheed Martin C-130J by extending the logistics footprint closer to the frontlines where the use of C-130’s are not considered favourable. Within this role, the C-27J has performed extremely well, and is well favoured by Special Operations Forces for its capabilities and reliability to support frontline forces. Is the Leonardo C-27J a cheap aircraft to purchase and operate? No, and it was never designed to be a cheap system. The Leonardo C-27J was designed for performance, and to capitalize and extend on the existing C-130J capabilities even further. Also, what we need to keep in mind is that the Alenia C-27A (G.222) is a totally different aircraft compared to the Leonardo C-27J, both these aircraft differing 40 years in design and systems technology. Unfortunately, due to the nature of competitive marketing within the arms industry, much of the data belonging to the C-27A (G.222) flooded the C-27J information space, causing for much disinformation and confusion between the two different aircraft systems which share the same appearance.

Comparative Analysis:

Leonardo (Alenia) C-27J in low-level flight. The rear load ramp has become a standard feature for tactical airlifters, the C-27J offering much greater load cabin dimensions than any of its direct competitors.

Looking at performance and capabilities, the main competitor to the Leonardo C-27J is the Airbus (CASA) C-295. The main specifications considered for this comparison relates to cabin dimensions (Table 1) and performance (Table 2):

The Airbus (CASA) C-295 cabin has a maximum cargo height limit of 1.7 metres. This feature is important when transporting vehicles, especially SOF vehicles.

The Leonardo (Alenia) C-27J cabin offers the most suitable dimensions, especially with a cabin height of 2,59 metres, compared to its competitors. This allows for much greater flexibility in terms of cargo capability, especially transporting of mission ready SOF vehicles.

Based on these metrics, the following factors favour the Leonardo C-27J as the most suitable for MCTS missions:

Missions: Armed/Ground ISR

Maritime Patrol / Anti-Submarine Warfare

Water Bomber



Air-to-Air Refuelling (IFR)


VIP Transport

Tactical Transport

Paratrooping & Air Supply

Humanitarian Assistance

Disaster Relief

Electronic Warfare (EW)

Options: Airborne Gunship (CAS)

Self-Protection Systems (Cockpit Armour, RWR, MAWS, LWS, Chaff/Flares)

Palletized Modular Mission Systems

The main performance differences we need to take into consideration in terms of the Leonardo C-27J capabilities compared to its competitors are summarized as follows:

1. Exceptional performance in high altitude mountainous operations.

2. Improved cabin height offering greater capability in terms of transportation of mission ready vehicles.

3. Systems commonality with the Lockheed Martin C-130J systems which improves training and maintenance


The main characteristics about the C-27J which needs to be understood, is that what the system offers within its present state is still under development from a TTP’s perspective. The RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) admitted to experiencing a major learning curve upon adopting the system into service due to its extended performance envelope and capabilities compared to the systems it replaced. The capabilities generation approach followed by the RAAF was a three level concept, namely:

Level 1: Develop airlift support moving people and cargo under peace conditions, to include HADR missions.

Level 2: Develop airborne capabilities in a threat environment.

Level 3: Develop Special Operations and Special Role Environment capabilities and application.

Six years after receiving the first C-27J, the RAAF is still adding new mission concepts and TTP’s as system induction matures.

What are MCTS (Mission Critical, Time Sensitive) Missions?

While there is no quantitative definition of MCTS, the US Army defines MCTS as the delivery of non-routine equipment, supplies, or personnel to a point of need in an accelerated time period, mainly in support of Brigade Combat Teams (BCT’s). However, the concept still requires refinement in terms of prioritization (Example: In Iraq, blood, aircraft on ground (AOG), ammunition, and priority equipment and parts were considered MCTS items, whereas in Afghanistan the movement of Special Operations Forces, the removal of casualties and detainees, and the resupply of food and water were considered priority MCTS missions). Basically, the decision in terms of what constitutes an MCTS item was left to the discretion of the supported commander in the Army.


MCTS cargo can vary considerately in size ranging from cargo crates with dimensions slightly larger than 1 meter, to abnormal dimensions (such as helicopter rotor blades with a length of nearly 10 meters). The associated weight of MCTS items can range from a few hundred kilograms to multiple tons for certain priority equipment such as camp power supply equipment. Basically, MCTS cargo can be anything in need by frontline forces falling within the cargo dimensions and weight limitations of the applicable aircraft assigned to MCTS tasks. Looking at delivery timeline, urgency of shipment is situation dependent (such as a few hours for blood, to more than a day for lesser critical supplies). In general, a nominal requirement for most MCTS items is less than one day. Another issue is how frequently MCTS missions are performed, and the only data available to analyse this concept to obtain sufficient data on determining the feasibility of a platform system such as the Leonardo C-27J, is to study the use of the C-23 Sherpa aircraft by the US Army. Based on these figures, 30 - 50% of C-23 missions flown were MCTS, which was about 50 MCTS missions per month for a total military strength of around 145,000 soldiers and 45,000 DoD contractor personnel deployed over an area spanning 438,317 km². The most interesting data indicated ammunition shipments were limited to only a few missions, although it is usually expected to be a greater demand item for MCTS missions. The most common MCTS items were blood, medical equipment & supplies, and spare parts for aircraft and vehicles. In Afghanistan, MCTS was mostly performed by CH-47 helicopters due to terrain factors limiting fixed wing aircraft runway requirements. Demand for MCTS in Afghanistan was drastically higher than in Iraq due to limited road infrastructure, and shipment priorities were derived from:

1. TYPE of MCTS shipment and importance to the mission.

2. CRITICALITY of resource to mission accomplishment.

3. URGENCY to deliver the MCTS item in a short time.

However, clear definition and assessment of what items were considered critical or urgent was interpreted differently by different support commanders much to the frustration of operational commanders. The main lesson learnt from Afghanistan in terms of MCTS missions is that a streamlined air tasking process is required to effectively and efficiently accomplish MCTS deliveries with the ability to assign suitable aircraft within hours of the request under any conditions (day and night), including IMC.

Ideal Platform Characteristics for MCTS Missions:

An aircraft that is capable of performing the MCTS mission should:

  • be properly sized for MCTS cargo/passenger missions

  • provide required speed of delivery

  • experience little downtime for refuelling and maintenance

  • be compatible with available airfields/improvised landing areas

  • be reasonably priced to procure and operate.

Performance Characteristics:

The US Army initially planned replacing its C-23 Sherpa fleet with the C-27J due to its greater range, performance and cargo/passenger capability compared to the C-23 Sherpa. However, whereas the C-23 Sherpa proved useful in Iraq (mainly due to the availability of airfield infrastructure and favourable altitude factors), Afghanistan proved to be a challenge due to high altitude operational limitations. For this reason, the US Army had to contract CASA C-212 Aviocar aircraft for the purpose of performing MCTS missions, supplemented by a large rotary-wing aviation fleet to serve forward deployments not accessible by fixed-wing aircraft. In Afghanistan, the CH-47F has similar cargo characteristics than the C-27J, but with limited range and much higher CPFH (cost per flying hour) and higher maintenance hours per flight hour. A capability that was determined essential within the Afghanistan theatre in terms of MCTS missions was that all aircraft types should be capable of performing airdrops using the Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPADS). Other considerations applicable to deciding suitability of a MCTS dedicated platform are:

1. Aircraft utilization

2. Operational limitations in terms of landing sites

3. Weathers conditions

4. Transit distances

5. Combat survivability.

The major downside of operating rotary-wing aircraft within the MCTS role following a hub-and-spoke distribution network is substantial wear and tear due to the extended distances and flying hours between remote bases intra- theatre. The result of higher associated maintenance requirements per flying hour relevant to rotary-wing aircraft compared to fixed-wing aircraft is that rotary-wing assets cause increased burden on MCTS mission requirements as a result of increased occurrence of AOG (Aircraft on Ground) which is viewed by many planners as counter-productive to achieving efficiency in operations. Also, the more rotary-wing aircraft are dedicated to the fulfilment of the logistics transportation mission, the lesser rotary-wing aircraft are available to support combat operations. When managed by inexperienced commanders, a military intervention operation can quickly transform into a situation where the logistics mission dominates priority over combat operations (as what Afghanistan became during the later phase of NATO ISAF operations). The CH-47 utilisation within the MCTS role in Afghanistan caused for that specific system being unavailable for supporting missions involving air assault of dismounted combat forces. For this reason, STOL capable fixed-wing aircraft are more suitable for MCTS missions due to its ability to land on improvised runways such as roads, hastily prepared runways, dry stream beds, open areas, etc. Later studies in Afghanistan indicated various alternative landing sites for fixed-wing aircraft within close proximity to each FOB, but at that time the C-27J program was already cancelled.

Note regarding Soft Surfaces: The softness of unprepared landing surfaces restricts the number of take-offs and landings that can be handled before resurfacing is required. If no structural upgrades are planned, then operational utility may be limited to emergency use only. Also, improvised landing areas should be areas that can be secured against direct and indirect attack when in operation. Looking at soft surface landings capability, the Airbus C-295 has a lower CBR-2 rating compared to the Leonardo C-27J rated at CBR-4 due to the differences in empty weights between the aircraft. However, the C-27J still provides superior performance compared to the C-295 in terms of high altitude operations most commonly found in the majority of austere environment mission areas. The main consideration here is that improvised field options exist to improve runway surface conditions (referring to the C-27J), but no options exist to improve performance at high altitudes without seriously degrading platform capabilities (referring to the C-295).

In terms of all-weather capability, fixed-wing aircraft are superior compared to rotary-wing aircraft assigned to MCTS missions for the reason that rotary-wing aircraft preferably operate under VFR (visual flight rules) conditions for safety reasons, especially when operating over mountainous terrain. Fixed-wing aircraft may operate under IFR (instrument flight rules) if the landing site is equipped with instrument landing systems, otherwise VFR conditions are recommended for landings on improvised strips. Fixed-wing aircraft also require more ground support than rotary-wing assets. Basically, both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft possess unique survivability and operational features. Rotary-wing aircraft are more capable of nap-of-the-earth flying with an inherent improved flexibility in selecting alternative landing corridors and directions when servicing FOB’s (Forward Operations Bases) compared to fixed-wing aircraft. Fixed-wing aircraft, however, have the advantage of being able to fly at altitudes beyond the range of most guns, only vulnerable to the presence of advanced air defence missile systems if not equipped with appropriate counter-measures. Rotary-wing aircraft will still remain the most suitable option for supplying remote bases over short distances (less than 100 nmi), operating from larger regional support bases supplied via fixed-wing aircraft, but many of these tasks could be performed using fixed-wing aircraft with rear-ramp dispatched air-drop systems where supply distances are beyond 50 nmi (depending on air drop size and type of cargo in terms of fragility).

Hub-and-Spoke Airlift Configuration:

The main advantage of a hub-and-spoke airlift configuration is that fewer helicopters are required for utilisation within the dedicated logistics role. The primary missions for helicopters should always be to support combat missions by providing the means for air assault operations, troops redeployment, casualty evacuation, tactical control, and any other tasks considered critical to achieving ground combat objectives. To develop a refined system is critical to ensuring improved operational effectiveness and efficiency starting with the expeditionary phase of a deployment, especially considering that future operations may include greater resupply distances than experienced in Afghanistan. Looking from an austere environment perspective, the African mission area offers much similarities to what was experienced in Afghanistan, and intra-theatre supply distances can range between 1,000 - 1,800 nmi due to lack of infrastructure. Unfortunately the reality of current global power developments indicate Africa (as a continent) as the next most likely terrain for future great powers conflict. Based on current NATO assessments, future mission areas in Africa will not be suitable for either rotary-wing aircraft or HEMTT (Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Trucks) based logistical supply due to the current poor state of existing infrastructure, which will also create an additional burden on refuelling requirements and associated support infrastructure. Therefore, future wars will rely on the use of long-range capable fixed-wing aircraft with the ability to reach destination points without the need for refuelling. Out of seven in-country scenarios considered as most likely future conflict areas in Africa, the C-27J was capable of landing without refuelling in four of the seven scenarios, and the C-130J-30 was capable of operating within all seven scenarios without having to land to refuel due to its extended range.

To measure cargo efficiency as an indicator of both effectiveness and efficiency using CPTM (Cost Per Ton Mile), the C-27J operating costs are about 70% that of the C-130J, whereas the use of rotary-wing assets cost 10x the costs of operating the C-27J. The main considerations applicable to the operation of either fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft depend on several factors, the two main drivers being:

  • Flight distance; and

  • Operating Environment (Threat, Terrain, Flight Conditions, Landing Sites, Ground Support).

Basically, as the threat increases, or weather becomes more complicated for landing, airdrop would become the preferred cargo delivery means. As distance increases, fixed-wing aircraft are preferred to limit refuelling logistics. The basic rule of thumb is 100 nmi as transition distance between the use of either rotary-wing aircraft or fixed-wing aircraft. However, the use of fixed-wing aircraft will be subject to the following requirements:

  • Force Protection measures applicable to aircraft operation in hostile terrain.

  • Limited to no availability of ground handling equipment.

  • Relaxation of published safety precautions (such as critical field length guidelines).

  • Accelerated wear and tear on aircraft resulting from poor-quality landing surfaces.

  • Awareness of direct- and indirect fire attacks on aircraft which may cause delayed or aborted landings.

  • Soft landing strips may not allow for routine continuous take-offs and landings, especially when transporting heavy payloads.

  • Runway surfaces may require regular repairs and inspections.

  • Availability of contingency refuelling facilities.

  • Additional TTP’s (Tactics, Techniques, Procedures) to expedite ground handling in terms of aircraft landing, transfer of personnel and materiel, and departure of aircraft to limit exposure to ground fire.

Looking at the C-27J in terms of suitability for hub-and-spoke missions within the MCTS role, the C-27J offers favourable performance to accommodate most of the associated challenges explained. The C-27J offers the needed speed, range, and cargo capacity (not too large payloads to enable expedited offloading, and not too small to cause for operational inefficiencies).

Air Tasking Procedures:

The main differences between respective Air Force and Army roles in support of COIN operations (applying to nations with organic airlift capabilities within their respective Armies), is that the Air Force is responsible for ‘pushing’ large volumes of materiel and passengers to main distribution points, and the Army ‘pulls’ smaller volumes of material and personnel to smaller final destinations (referred to as the ‘last tactical mile’ in the US armed forces) under more time-critical conditions. The inherent flaw in current Army design, especially in Africa, is that Army logistics are mainly ground-based mobility solutions (still following 3rd generation warfare TTP’s). During the current evolution of warfare, sufficient argument exists for Armies to develop their own organic air capabilities independent from their supporting Air Forces, not to replace the Air Force capabilities, but rather to supplement and expand on Air Force unique systems. The main reason for this is to enable ground commanders to exploit the air domain to their immediate tactical advantage through an abridged air tasking procedure, while reducing the associated risks to surface movements, to include reducing ground-based resources requirements for the safe movement of every ton of cargo via ground mobility means.

Based on lessons learnt from both Iraq and Afghanistan operations, neither the US Air Force nor the US Army operates an air tasking system optimised for MCTS deliveries which requires a system of prioritisation to effectively conform to frontline commander critical airlift requirements. The Air Force airlift system applies two employment concepts, namely:

  • Hub-and-spoke; and

  • Direct delivery.

Hub-and-spoke integrates inter-theatre and intra-theatre airlift operations by moving large volumes of cargo and personnel from aerial ports of embarkation (APOE) usually outside of the theatre AOR, to aerial ports of debarkation (APOD) within the AOR. Direct delivery missions are limited to inter-theatre missions originating from APOE’s directly to a FOB within theatre, bypassing hubs to avoid inefficiencies of trans-shipment at hubs to shorten delivery times, minimise loads on hubs, increase effectiveness, and optimise air mobility operations. Direct delivery usually occurs during surge operations, high-tempo operations, and unit deployment rotations. The Army, on the other hand, manages its own air tasking procedures which are perceived as faster and more direct due to its in-service integration. The US Army process focusses on consolidating cargo to a specific location, mixing aircraft according to airlift requirements based on load, and coordinating with the Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB) to enable support from other flights in area. The US Army air tasking process projects missions in one-week increments planned in 24-hour cycles. As soon as a mission is in execution phase, the supported commander may request space availability for cargo and personnel. For routine or non-emergency requests, the assigned aircraft crew may decide load priorities, but for MCTS requirements, loads may be ‘bumped’ to make space for emergency requests. However, based on all the aforementioned procedures, Table 4 provides guidelines in terms of prioritisation of loads based on importance to reaching mission objectives:

MCTS Organisation and Employment Recommendations:

As discussed in a previous post Measuring Success in Border Protection: Effectiveness vs Efficiency, operational effectiveness is the relationship between expected results and achieved results, whereas operational efficiency is the relationship between results achieved and resources used to achieve such results. To ensure that MCTS airlift missions achieve optimised results in terms of effectiveness and efficiency, the intra-theatre airlift strategy should incorporate the following recommendations based on lessons learnt in Iraq and Afghanistan:

1. Different arms of services (such as the Air Force and Army respectively), should establish a joint operations scheduling procedure using simple lines of communications leading to a centralised coordination centre.

2. It is best if the Army takes the lead in developing procedures for tactical air supply of its frontline forces, with the Air Force providing only a technical supporting function and recommendations in terms of feasibility, risks and options.

3. In terms of MCTS scheduling, there are only 5 categories within a 24 hour planning cycle, namely:

  • Undergoing Assessment (Previous 24 hours Planning)

  • In Execution (Current Plan)

  • In Production (Next 24 hours Planning)

  • In Final Planning (Next 48 hours Out)

  • In Development (Next 72 hours Out)

4. Informal scheduling procedures should be included within the formal scheduling process (in other words, formalising the practice of accepting last-minute high-priority MCTS shipments in the air tasking procedures).

5. Maintain aircraft on strip alert for urgent unforeseen/unplanned/emergency MCTS deliveries. However, strip alert should only apply over a specific period of time per day (Example: 0800 - 1200).

6. Reserve a fraction of cargo bay of each aircraft for last-minute priority MCTS additions. Although effectiveness is always the main focus in military operations, efficiency can be gained by flying at full capacity.

7. Consolidate Air Operations (AIROPS) between all arms of service to enable maximum dispatch of airlift movements on next available flights.

8. Minimum capacity thresholds should be determined to enable the cancellation of flights with low volume to decrease associated risks of operating aircraft over hostile terrain.

9. OPSEC should also be considered a high priority. Flight security should be high, and aircraft flight times should be irregular. Night flight operations are inherently more secure against enemy actions compared to daylight operations. Flight routes should also be alternated regularly to avoid the creation of routines and patterns.

10. The military theatre should be equipped with sufficient airlift capacity and options to expand considerations for common users, and to allow for capacity to accommodate surge operations.

11. When available, fixed-wing aircraft should always be used instead of rotary-wing aircraft to achieve efficiencies, and to reserve rotary-wing aircraft for combat operations support.

12. Enforce strict rules or accountability regarding shipments prioritisation, while maintaining flexibility for frontline commanders to dictate priority requirements to achieve combat operations success. Control measures should be in place to avoid abuse of authority, especially in military organisations lacking maturity in leadership.

13. Administrative bottlenecks should be identified and avoided during the AMR (Air Mission Request) procedures.

14. MCTS procedures should include procedures for dynamic tasking of mission diverts to enable MCTS mission fulfilment.

15. MCTS procedures do not end when an aircraft offloads its cargo. Ground based airfield services should enable rapid delivery of shipments to the requesting unit(s) as soon as possible.


Arms procurement is commonly perceived as a simple process of comparing one system with another, and then choosing the best system at the lowest price offered. In reality the process of choosing the most suitable platform takes many years (on average 5 - 10 years, and sometime even longer) to decide the most suitable system capable of a guaranteed service life of at least 30 years and more. The processes of final decision making in terms of arms procurement usually follows the following major considerations:

  • Military capabilities in relation to end-user specific requirements.

  • Security of supplies (and support) over equipment lifetime, including mission systems.

  • Domestic industrial contribution by means of government-to-government negotiated return investment agreements (the greater the order potential, the greater the negotiating power to the benefit of the buyer).

  • Costs relating to initial purchase, induction and maintenance over lifetime.

  • Impact on national security and defence policies, especially strategic power projection.

To determine the Leonardo C-27J’s suitability for dedicated MCTS missions, especially in support of large scale Counter-Insurgency (COIN) Operations, we need to know the answers to the following questions, namely:

  • In a dispersed COIN environment, what are the requirements of frontline forces, and what are the desired supply timelines in terms of priorities?

  • What aircraft characteristics and capabilities are required to perform MCTS missions in support of frontline expeditionary forces?

  • What airlift tasking procedures are needed to provide delivery of MCTS shipments to supported forces?

  • What changes in organisation and employment of joint force assets are required in future COIN operations?

  • Is the C-27J a reasonable option compared to its competitors for fulfilling operational requirements?

  • How can resupply routes be improved to provide better direct support to supported commanders?

Based on operational experience gained by the US Army in Afghanistan, the C-27J is well suited to perform the required mission scope as originally envisioned during the original FCA program. The aircraft system is well equipped to transit long distances to dispersed locations from where rotary-wing aircraft distribute smaller shipments to remote deployment areas over shorter distances not accessible by road transportation, fixed-wing aircraft, or airdrops (such as operations within mountainous terrain). However, the critical success factors in terms of MCTS missions are mostly not aircraft platform related, but rather procedural efficiency related in terms of planning and approval processes. Both Iraq and Afghanistan highlighted the importance of ensuring operational efficiencies through improved cooperation between supporting services, as well as the value of enabling availability of a diverse mix of assets. The use of rotary-wing aircraft in Afghanistan proved extremely effective, but not very efficient in terms of costs of operation and reduced service life due to high rate of flying hours accumulated on airframes. However, in terms of MCTS missions, efficiency must not be considered the ultimate requirement for success (although important), for an effective intra-theatre distribution system is most effective if based on responsiveness instead of efficiency. The added benefit of having an effective MCTS capability based on the hub-and-spoke airlift configuration is that the exact same model can be applied to HADR (Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Relief) missions during peace time.


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