26 Feb 2019
Spartan lifter could be ADF’s first gunship
The army’s air mobility has been enhanced by the air force’s acquisition of 10 C-27J Spartan airlifters. These aircraft give the Australian Defence Force much greater flexibility in moving personnel and cargo to remote locations, whether across northern Australia, or into the Pacific and PNG.
But the C-27J platform can do much more than haul cargo.
One of the most impressive military capabilities is the role of an airborne gunship. With a heritage dating to converted C-47s, nicknamed ‘‘Puff the Magic Dragon’’, that supported US forces in Vietnam, modern gunships such as the AC-130J version of the Hercules have been extensively used over Afghanistan and more broadly in the war on terror.
The C-27J Spartan platform has evolved into the MC-27J Praetorian, which can perform a multitude of roles. These include working as an airborne gunship via a gun pallet; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions including signals intelligence and electronic warfare; medivac and search and rescue; and command and control through palletised roll-on roll-off modules.
Adding that flexibility to the ADF’s fleet would allow a RAAF force comprising legacy C-27Js and additional MC-27Js to play an expanded role in joint operations.
The ADF has never fielded an airborne-gunship capability but it needs to think about future evolution and how the C-27J would fit into the future force.
The acquisition under the Defence Department’s Air 7003 purchasing project of MQ-8 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles will add a new level of support for ground forces. Replacing the Aussie-Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopter is still set for the second half of the 2020s under current plans. Acquiring additional MC-27Js would be a logical step to knit these capabilities together.
Consider the future scenario of an expeditionary deployment to undertake stabilisation in a contested environment. Air force MC-27Js could directly support ground forces through providing battlefield ISR and airborne electronic warfare support.
Where necessary, MC-27Js with the palletised gun would offer direct fire support. Their command and control modules would provide an airborne gateway, allowing better integration between ground and air forces and swarms of low-cost autonomous air vehicles, and enable future army rotary-wing assets to have better situational awareness and greater survivability.
The acquisition of the C-27J Spartan provides a logical entry point for boosting joint force integration. The platform is much more than the sum of its parts.