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La sostituzione dei Caribou australiani

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Australia’s need to replace its ancient de Havilland Canada Caribous is offering an opportunity to rebalance and simplify the country’s complex transport aircraft fleet.

 

Planners are considering wider options than simply ordering a suitable number of direct replacements for the Caribous—ether C-27J Spartans from L-3 and Alenia or C-295s from EADS.

 

More Boeing CH-47 Chinooks could help fill the Caribou’s role, while the replacement fixed-wing aircraft may be combined with more Lockheed Martin C-130Js to replace Australia’s old C-130Hs and thereby rationalize the force structure.

 

Australia has a remarkably diverse force of transport aircraft for the size of its air force and army: Boeing C-17s, C-130J-30s, C-130Hs, Caribous and, in army service, Chinooks. That makes five types, not counting the forthcoming Airbus A330 MRTT tankers, which will have full passenger decks and the usual under-floor cargo space.

 

As a result, none of the transport types is fielded in economical numbers.

 

A defense white paper due to appear shortly may address the question of simplifying the force.

 

One option that no one expects is elimination of the light battlefield transport category when the Caribous are retired this year.

 

Conceivably, Australia could try to do without such aircraft, instead relying on larger fixed-wing aircraft (C-130s) and helicopters (Chinooks) to fill the Caribou’s role of tactical transport for the Australian army. But C-130s are too big and costly for many missions and need longer runways, say industry and government officials, while CH-47s are almost twice as expensive to run as light military transport airplanes and cannot fly as far or as fast.

 

So the government has asked for pricing and availability information for 10, 12 or 14 light battlefield transports. There are 14 Caribous.

 

The C-27J offers more capability and commonality than the smaller C-295 but is also the more costly of the two.

 

No equivalent modern transport can take off in such short distances as the Caribou, but the C-27 comes closest of the two competing types, partly thanks to its more powerful engines. Those engines are the same Rolls-Royce AE2100s mounted on the C-130J. Avionics are also common between the two types.

 

Moreover, the Australian armed forces are always attracted to the idea of operating the same equipment as the U.S. services that they usually deploy alongside. The U.S. Army and Air Force selected the C-27J for their Joint Cargo Aircraft program in 2007.

 

That should raise concerns that EADS is being used only as a stalking horse, a competitor whose only function is to drive down the price of a rival product that the buyer really wants.

 

But there are three reasons to believe that the C-295 is a serious contender. One is that it is probably cheaper, while its correspondingly smaller capability may not matter as long as it meets the requirement. For example, in 2007 Australia concluded a destroyer competition between a U.S. design and a Spanish one. The Royal Australian Navy strongly favored the larger and more capable U.S. offering, but the government insisted on the Spanish design because it was cheaper but still met the specification.

 

A second advantage of the C-295 is that EADS has a substantial local industrial presence in the form of its subsidiary Australian Aerospace. “I expect EADS will incorporate a support package from us in its C-295 bid,” says Australian Aerospace Chief Executive Jens Goennemann.

 

On the other hand, the EADS unit just won a contract to support the C-130J. It would surely be eager to maintain the C-27J if that aircraft won.

 

The other reason to take the C-295 seriously is that industry officials say it beat the C-27J when Australia last held a Caribou replacement competition eight years ago. The Australian Defense Dept. canceled the requirement before announcing the winner, wasting the time and money that the manufacturers had spent on their bids.

 

After all that, Australia’s dithering over the Caribou replacement will outlast the Caribou. The 45-year-old piston-engine aircraft must be retired this year because they now cost so much to maintain and, with their unique demand for aviation gasoline, are too hard to deploy. Showing how theoretical their capability has become, they have never been sent to support Australia’s forces in Afghanistan, even though they could have relieved pressure on the overtaxed NATO helicopter force there.

 

Beechcraft King Air 350s will serve as stopgap replacements, pending the fielding of the real replacement, possibly in 2013.

 

Australia’s request for price information for a variable number of aircraft reflects the possibility that the Caribou replacement will become part of a larger exercise in force rebalancing and rationalization.

 

The type that Australia could eliminate is the C-130H, which could be replaced with a few more C-130Js and the battlefield transport, depending on how many are ordered.

 

“The majority of [Australian C-130] missions that are being flown are with three pallets or fewer,” says the L-3 executive responsible for the Australian requirement, Gary Upshaw. C-27s or C‑295s could do those jobs more cheaply.

 

Selling more C-130Js to Australia may not be straightforward, however. Australia has not been happy with manufacturer support for the C-130J and may be reluctant to reward Lockheed Martin with a top-up order.

 

“In the beginning our support to the Royal Australian Air Force probably was not good enough,” says Lockheed Martin’s Christopher Antone. “But I think they are more satisfied than they were and they will be more satisfied in the future.”

 

Australia’s dissatisfaction with the C‑130J has been particularly regrettable for Lockheed Martin. The country has been operating C-130s for half a century, it was the first export customer and has ordered every major version of the aircraft.

 

www.aviationweek.com

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