The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Procurement Legacies of the Afghan War

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


One of the most vivid and enduring images of the U.S. departure from Vietnam remains the Navy offloading perfectly good helicopters into the South China Sea as the last of its ships sailed away.  The ongoing U.S. exodus from Afghanistan has produced a similar moment, albeit for a less useful aircraft. 

In order to “minimize impact on drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan,” 16 G222 transport planes were chopped up and sold as scrap to an Afghan construction company for a grand total of $32,000, or 6 cents per pound.  The U.S. spent $486 million to purchase 20 of the aircraft, also known as the C-27A, for the Afghan Air Force (AAF).  The remaining four planes are being stored at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.  The destroyed G222s will ultimately be replaced by C-130H transport planes, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, although not until 2016. 

On October 3, 2014, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, claiming he was “concerned that the officials responsible for planning and executing the scrapping of the planes may not have considered other possible alternatives in order to salvage taxpayer dollars.”  SIGAR Sopko’s letter also inquired as to whether the DOD took any compensatory action against the companies charged with manufacturing and maintaining the planes, and how the four remaining aircraft would be handled.

The DOD originally contracted with Alenia Aermacchi, a subsidiary of Italian defense contractor Finmeccanica, to refurbish and supply 20 G222s to allow the AAF to conduct air evacuations and transport soldiers.  However, the program quickly encountered problems.  According to Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) Wastebook 2014, a January 2013 DOD Inspector General report indicated that the NATO Training Mission and program managers had failed to “effectively manage the G222 program,” and that the aircraft did “not meet operational requirements, may be cost prohibitive to fly, and … several critical spare parts to sustain the G222 are unavailable.”  In March 2013, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) cancelled the contract.  Over the course of their service, the aircraft suffered from “continuous and severe operational difficulties, including a lack of spare parts.”

The October 3 letter from SIGAR Sopko also stated that the aircraft “flew only 234 of the 4,500 required hours from January through September 2012,” and that a further “$200 million in Afghanistan Security Forces Funds might have to be spent on spare parts for the aircraft to meet operational requirements, noting that several critical spare parts for the aircraft were unavailable.” 

A December 9, 2013 Bloomberg article quoted the USAF’s top acquisition officer, Lieutenant General Charles Davis, as saying “Just about everything you can think of was wrong for it other than the airplane was built for the size of cargo and mission they needed … other than that, it didn’t really meet any of the requirements.”  In addition to the unavailability of parts, the G222 did not perform well in the hot, dusty Afghan environment.  Lt. Gen. Davis considers the episode to be a “lessons-learned” case, and claimed the USAF “looked for buyers, people to accept [the aircraft], and nobody was interested in trying to maintain an airplane that was no longer sustainable….”  Of course, this begs the question as to why the DOD purchased the G222s in the first place. 

Unfortunately, this episode is reminiscent not only of the U.S. departure from Vietnam, but of past USAF procurement disasters, including the KC-X tanker and the CSAR-X helicopter.  While the decision-making process during a war does not occur in a vacuum, the DOD and USAF demonstrated astoundingly poor judgment in purchasing an aircraft that was wholly unsuitable for the mission that it was meant to perform.

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