Lawmakers on Capital Hill are making no secret about their heartburn over the Air Force’s recent decision to kill its new C-27J Spartan joint aircraft.
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee appeared to second-guess the controversial budget decision as they questioned the Army’s senior leadership on the C-27 on Thursday.
Ohio Republican Sen. Rob Portman voiced his concern that the Air Force would pull C-27Js out of Afghanistan, despite the much-need support those aircraft are providing to Army ground units there.
Portman reenforced his point by asking Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno to describe the C-27J’s performance in Afghanistan.
Odierno told lawmakers that the C-27J “impacted very positively” on 82nd Airborne Division’s ability to accomplish its mission by delivering supplies to remote locations.
“It’s important for us to sustain air assets dedicated to ground forces,” Odierno said. “The Air Force made the decision; they think they can do this with C-130s. If we get that same support — that is what we need. I would say that this has been supplied very successfully by the C-27.”
Portman seized on Odierno’s statements to criticize the Air Force for failing to consider the money C-27s save when compared to older aircraft.
“The C-27 does it for $2,100 per hour, the CH-47 does it for about $11,000 per hour, the C-130 does for between $5,100 to $7,100 an hour — so from a taxpayer perspective, the C-27 not only allows you to land on smaller air strips, it’s saving the taxpayer money,” Portman said. He wants to make sure the Pentagon isn’t pulling a capability out of theater that meets a requirement. “I have never seen the military do this before.”
Mississippi Republican Sen. Roger Wicker also made a point of asking Army officials about their involvement in the Air Force’s C-27 decision. He expressed concern when Odierno said he learned about the C-27’s demise at a joint meeting between the two services.
Army Secretary John McHugh caused the line of questioning to fizzle when he told Wicker that the Army was given the opportunity to discuss the C-27 before the Air Force killed it.