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OPINION – Clarifying the C-27J FMS case

written by | March 20, 2012
A C-27J. (USAF)

After doing some additional reading overnight, I just wanted to clarify yesterday’s opinion post, especially regarding the proposed FMS sale.

With the cancellation of the US’s C-27J program, the RAAF would not have the benefit of being linked into a ‘parent service’ such as the USAF/ANG for software, electronic warfare and other systems upgrades and support. But there are still some compelling benefits of going down an FMS route.

The most important benefit FMS is that the ADF will likely get the same unit price the USAF/ANG was contracted for the original Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) program several years ago, apart from the US government’s negligible FMS fee. The ADF has expressed a clear preference for this route, and has not opened a tender bid process for any alternatives.


Commercial sensitivities preclude industry or Defence insiders from confirming actual numbers or even percentage differences, but AA understands the price being offered through FMS is the same as the original US JCA program of record for 135 C-27Js, even though this number was whittled down to just 38 airframes by the USAF and now looks like being capped at fewer than 25. Compared to a direct commercial sale for 10 aircraft, the FMS route thus offers much greater economies of scale, especially if a suitable support package and upgrade path can be worked out with prime L-3 and OEM Alenia.

In justifying its reasons for cancelling the program, the USAF said the C-27J’s life cost will be more than US$300m per aircraft – compared to about $200m for a C-130J(!). But in the past few days the ANG which operates the C-27J has responded to these cost claims with some much lower figures of its own which drastically undermine the USAF’s case for cancelling the program. It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

In the meantime – we posted a YouTube video on our website a week or so ago showing a PT6 turboprop powered Caribou performing an airdrop in Afghanistan. This and other civil aircraft are being contracted by the US military – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars – to provide airlift support to coalition troops in Afghanistan … exactly the role for which the JCA C-27J was intended.

As for other types the ADF should consider for AIR 8000 Phase 2; in the current issue of ADBR we talk about Defence saying it also considered the Viking Buffalo (an updated version of the DHC-5 Buffalo which hasn’t flown and has no orders), the RUAG Do228NG, and even Poland’s PZL M28! No mention of a Twin Otter as one of our readers has suggested. No mention of the V-22 either, which would likely be defeated on cost and supportability grounds, even if it arguably most closely meets the requirement.


Andrew McLaughlin

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  • Bob Brinkley


    Given the Western engines and Avionic suites that can be fitted to Russian aircraft these days surely the Sukhoi S-80 would be worth a look if the C-27J buy falls in a heap? With Russian metalurgy and Western running gear you’d have to be onto a winner and you could bring in someone like Gippsland Aerospace as the local prime to get some real Australian involvement and help rebuild our aerospace industry.

    While Western aircraft have previously been preferred I think the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall have been gone long enough to at least give some pause for thought to other (non-Western) airlift options for austere environments.

    My other idea is an Aussie V-22 Osprey FMS buy for Air Force – now there’s a thought………….

  • Inés Jimenez


    The C-27J price for the US JCA version is around 31 MUSD according to US 2010, 2011 and 2102 budgets ( . This price is the flyaway cost, which includes the aircraft and engineering works. It’s really surprising that the article mentions that the Australian will get a C-27J in the JCA version for the same price that the USAF/ANG was contracted, apart from the US governemnent’s negligible fee….a fee of more than 400 M AUD!!!! (950 M AUD for 10 aircraft is what US government is proposing through a FMS case to Australia)

  • Airlifter


    I would just like to let those who are concerned about the life cycle cost of the C-27J that it has been overinflated by the U.S. Air Force. I’m a civilian now who is retired from the USAF and now work as a C-27J instructor. I spent 15 years flying on the C-17 while on active duty. I can ensure you that the decision to cancel the C-27J is strictly political. Many retired general officers from the USAF now are employeed by Lockheed-Martin and strongly favor the C-130J. The USAF has estimated the the cost to fly the C-27J at approximately $9,000 USD an hour while the actual cost is closer to $3,000 USD an hour. I can ensure you that the RAAF is getting a great aircraft by purchasing the C-27J, and the decision to cancel the program will be one that the USAF will regret in the years to come.

  • Martin


    Why are life cycle costs such rubbery numbers that there is apparently significant inconsistency between the USAF and ANG (which I would have thought was simply a component of the USAF anyway)? What “life costs” are USAF referring to anyway? Is it the combined purchase, maintenance and direct operating costs? Are the figures being compared on an equitable basis? ie: same total aircraft flying hours and life in the comparison between C130J and C27J? Perhaps the costs are being normalised by payload capacity or something like that?? On the face of it, I can’t see how an aircraft with only two engines of a particular type can be more expensive to operate than one with four of the same type (and corresponding increased fuel burn) so I would trust the ANG assesment more than the other one! I can’t see there should be massive economies of scale that come into play with the C130J that could explain the USAF claims either. Referring back to my copy of “The International Directory of Military Aircraft 1998/99” it was funny to read in the C-27J entry: “…the C-27J will have significantly lower operating costs” [than the G222 from which it is derived]. Clearly some of those making the decisions don’t want to believe that.

  • Wayne


    Buy the C-27J. Suits the mission and is in production. Alenia can support it. Don’t settle for a less capability..

  • Ines

    The $950 million is the ceiling price of a possible FMS buy, and is likely much more than the actual price will be.

    The total program costs also takes into account spares, an initial support package, training and technical publications, simulator/s, facilities work, plus any optional extras we may want fitted to our aircraft. According to the DSCA notification from last December, the request from Australia includes the following…

    “…10 C-27J aircraft; 23 AE2100D2 Rolls Royce engines; 12 Electronic Warfare Self Protection Suites; 12 AAR-47A(V)2 Missile Warning Systems; 12 ALE-47(V) Threat Adaptive Countermeasures Dispensing Systems; 12 APR-39B(V)2 Radar Warning Receivers; 13 AN/APN-241 Radar Systems; 44 AN/ARC-210 Warrior Very High Frequency/Ultra High Frequency Communication Systems; 12 KY-100 Units; 12 HF 9550 Radios; 12 APX-119 Identification Friend or Foe (Mode 4); 14 Blue Force Trackers; 12 Portable Flight Mission Planning Systems; support and test equipment; repair and return; spare and repair parts; aircraft ferry and tanker support; personnel training and training equipment; publications and technical data; Operational Flight Simulator, Fuselage, and Maintenance trainers; U.S. Government and contractor representative engineering, logistics, and technical support services; and other related elements of logistics and program support.”

    The FMS fee is usually low single digit percentage points of the total cost, and is a cost-recovery for the administration work done by the service the acqusition is done through.


    Andrew McLaughlin

  • John


    There is something about the C-27J purchase that just doesn’t make sense. Here are some propositions: (1) Both the C-27J and C295 both are completely different products to the caribou, i.e. they will be a new capability not a replacement; (2) Both have much longer runway requirements meaning that neither won’t replace the STOL capability of the caribou (even though the C27J is better than the C295). (3) this leaves the main advantage of the c-27J is it can carry the G-Wagon; and (4), a Chinook can carry the G-wagon. So why do we want the C-27J: because there is a gap where we might want to send a g-wagon somewhere beyond the range of a Chinook and where the runway is too short for a C-130 but still long enough for a C-27J. Can someone please tell me why this is a gap worth spending $ 700 million on? Our defence force has some seriously massive security gaps that could do with this $700 million, so why does this make prioritisation sense?

  • Inés Jimenez


    Andrew, what is included in the FMS case is basically 10 C-27Js in the JCA configuration (all the radios and equipment identified in your response are part of this specific version) plus initial training and support, spares for the first years (including three engines) and a FFS. Remeber that the C-27J has cost to the American 31 M USD! And the CoA could pay 3 times more!. If, as you mention, the 950 M AUD in the FMS is the ceiling price, overall amount should be divided by two, in order to be atractive to the Australian tax payer!

  • C27J = Half Herc, x2 Cost


    C-27J needs the same runways as the hercs…whatever the numbers are, it doesn’t sound like flying the C-27J saves you much rather than just operating hercules. If the USAF can’t justify it with their fleet sizes, how could Australia?

    The only true battlefield airlifter option is the DHC-5 Buffalo.

  • Martin


    Hello “C27J = Half Herc, x2 Cost”. Not sure what you mean when you refer to “needs the same runway as the hercs” and also not sure what you are referring to by the “x2 Cost” in your title. When C-27J was selected by Defence, it included a comparison of the number of Australian airfields the C-27J could land at compared to the C-130 and it was a fair few more. Also, I can’t believe our Department would be spending twice the amount per C-27J than per C-130J if compared in equivalent year dollars. As I already questioned above, I likewise can’t see how the C-27J could possibly cost more than the C-130J to operate. So perhaps you could clarify with some reference to hard comparative data? By the way, if you wonder how Australia could justify a small fleet of C-27J’s, then we may as well wind up the whole of the RAAF as none of our fleet are operating in large numbers (including the C-130J and the older C-130H). In fact, many smaller commuter airlines in Australia could probably wind up business as well as they wouldn’t have fleets as large as the planned C-27J fleet for the RAAF! PS: I am as big a fan of the Hercules as any person but I am sure the C-27J has its merits as well.

  • Bob Dollin


    How about look at the Casa C-235, C-295 or even a Jet Version Bae 146ST. All would be an excellent replacement for a Caribou.

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