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Military planes get new missions

Twenty-one military cargo planes the Pentagon spent $1 billion on and sent to a desert boneyard have been designated for new missions with the Army Special Operations Command and the Coast Guard, military officials say.

The Coast Guard has targeted early 2016 to start flying the former Air Force C-27J Spartan on long range search and rescue missions, and the Special Operations Command will use the planes for military parachutists training, military officials said.

The Defense Department paid $567 million for the actual production of the aircraft, but when research and development costs were factored in, the price tag rose to $1 billion, figures show.

As part of the transfer arrangement with the Coast Guard outlined by Congress, the Coast Guard will provide seven aging C-130H planes to the Air Force, which will pay up to $130 million to refurbish the planes for firefighting service with the U.S. Forest Service, Coast Guard and Air Force officials said. In October, the Defense Department ordered seven C-27Js transferred to the Army Special Operations Command.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Daniel Tremper, a Coast Guard spokesman in Washington, D.C., said he did not have a timeline on when the maritime service would receive the 14 planes.

“At this point, there’s no specific timeline of when the transfer will happen,” he said.

The twin propeller-engine Spartan was pulled out of Air National Guard operations, which had flown the plane exclusively, and sent to the “boneyard” at the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., beginning last July, Dayton Daily News archives show.

Today, 13 planes remain in storage with a 14th at a L-3 Communications factory in Waco, Texas, with the plane slated to join the others headed to Davis-Monthan, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in an email. The Dayton Daily News reported on the planes trip from production line to storage in October.

Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project On Government Oversight in Washington, D.C., said the aircraft was a good idea when it began as a joint program between the Army and the Air Force, but the program’s outcome shows the influence defense contractor Lockheed Martin has in limiting competition from a rival competitor. Lockheed Martin manufactures the C-130 aircraft, which began production deliveries to the U.S. military in the 1950s. The latest variant, the C-130J, began deliveries in 1999, according to the Air Force.

Jack Crisler, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics vice president of air mobility business development, declined comment through a spokeswoman. “We do not have a comment about the U.S. Government’s acquisition and programmatic decisions regarding non-Lockheed Martin-owned aircraft,” a company statement said.

Last year, four C-27Js once assigned to the 179th Airlift Wing at Mansfield Air National Guard Base were sent to the desert storage facility. The Mansfield unit deployed with the new plane to Afghanistan in 2011. When the Air Force announced its intent to pull the plane out of service to cut costs, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, met with former Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley to urge the service to maintain the C-27J program to keep jobs in Ohio and for national defense, Dayton Daily News archives show.

Making a campaign stop in Mansfield in 2012, President Barack Obama vowed to find a new mission for the Ohio base and eight, older C-130 cargo planes were assigned to the unit.

The C-27J’s stay in the U.S. military began as a joint project between the Army and the Air Force. The Army took delivery of the first aircraft in October 2008, before the Air Force took over the program in 201o. Prime contractor L-3 Communications and Alenia North America, part of the Italian company Finmeccanica Inc., manufactured the plane.

The Coast Guard may base the C-27Js at air stations in Sacramento, Calif.; Clearwater, Fla.; Kodiak, Alaska; and Barbers Point, Hawaii, but a final determination is pending, Tremper said. ‘They could go to any or all of the stations,” he said.

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