Odd Choices in Afghanistan | Citizens Against Government Waste

Odd Choices in Afghanistan

The WasteWatcher

In late December 2012, the United States Air Force (USAF) did not renew its contract with Alenia Aermacchi, a subsidiary of Italian-based defense contractor Finmeccanica, to refurbish and supply 20 G222s (also known as the C-27A) for the Afghan Air Force (AAF).  Primarily used for casualty evacuation and to resupply forward bases, the G222s in Afghanistan were grounded for several months in 2011-2012 because of maintenance-related issues.  Although taxpayers have spent $590 million on the project since its inception in 2009, the USAF cited this poor performance as the reason it canceled the contract.  Set to expire at the end of March 2013, the renewal of the contract would have cost the government $60 million for an additional year. Instead, the U.S. intends to supply the AAF with four Lockheed Martin C-130H aircraft to replace the 20 G222s.  The USAF stated its goal to transfer two of the larger, more capable aircraft by the end of 2013 and two more the following year. Alenia has disputed the USAF’s claim of poor performance.  A January 2, 2013 article in Jane’s Defense Industry noted that while the company admits to early problems in the program, it says 12 of the 16 G222s in Afghanistan are mission capable, with the other four grounded for maintenance or other issues.  An additional four aircraft sit in Italy awaiting transfer to Afghanistan.  Crucially, as their contract with the USAF calls for six working aircraft in Kabul and an additional two once a unit in Kandahar is trained, Alenia appears to be ahead of the game. Moreover, Alenia claims many of the contributing factors to the poor performance of the G222 as characterized by the USAF (Afghan literacy rates and a lack of maintenance space and equipment have all delayed training of AAF operators, a reality noted by others) are not the company’s fault, and would be amplified with the introduction of a more technically complex aircraft such as the C-130H. Adding confusion to the transition, it’s not clear where the USAF would produce the four C-130H for the AAF.  Lockheed Martin has stopped building the planes in favor of the newer C-130J.  The four planes for the AAF would likely come from among the number of C-130Hs currently used by the USAF, USAF Reserve, or the National Guard. Despite the controversy surrounding its decision, the USAF appears to be speeding toward the point of no return.  In a move reminiscent of the U.S. Navy dumping helicopters into the South China Sea as it departed Vietnam, the U.S. apparently plans to destroy the 16 G222s in Afghanistan (and the four in Italy upon arrival in Afghanistan) in the near term. Beyond the obvious questions regarding the decision to purchase the G222 four years ago, the destruction of the G222s in Afghanistan would greatly impede the AAF’s capability for casualty evacuation and resupply over the next several years.  Not only does the USAF need to identify C-130Hs within its own fleet for the AAF, but Afghan pilots, who have already been trained to fly the G222s, will now have to be trained on the functions of the C-130H’s more elaborate systems.  As the Obama administration debates what sort of force to leave behind in Afghanistan after the NATO combat mission concludes at the end of 2014 (with the “zero option” – no American troops – on the table), the USAF may be decimating the AAF’s ability to operate independently.  Given that capable, independent action by Afghan security forces has been a principal U.S. priority for years, the decision to destroy the G222s is perplexing, as it will only increase reliance on the U.S. to fulfill the plane’s role. Unfortunately, this episode with the G222 is reminiscent of past USAF procurement disasters, including the KC-X tanker and the CSAR-X helicopter.  The situation clearly calls for Congressional involvement, including answers regarding why the USAF has chosen this particular path.

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