The Air Force has been under scrutiny by Congress for their decision to cancel the C-27J, a short-range cargo plane housed in the National Guard and flown in support of ground operations. Some have even asserted that the Air Force inflated the C-27J‘s life-cycle costs in order to make it easier to cancel. Our own Gordon Adams points out: “this is a classic show-me-the-money issue. It gets very dicey if you’ve made a policy decision that you haven’t backed up with a cost analysis.”
Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) explained this concern in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 20th:
I have in front of me here three different Air Force documents with life-cycle costs ranging from $111 million bucks per aircraft, then a couple of weeks later to $308 million per aircraft, presented to my staff, and then a few days later $270 million…. Unfortunately, it leaves me with the feeling that you're trying to get this analysis to match a budget decision that was made by the Air Force…
Air Force Secretary Donley’s response to Portman’s accusation shed very little light on the cost controversy, but he did offer this tidbit earlier in the hearing.
Our smaller force structure has also led us to favor divesting smaller, niche fleets, such as the C-27J, and emphasizing multi-role capabilities that will provide operational flexibility across the spectrum of conflict, demonstrated by our C-130s…
It’s not hard to read between those lines. “Niche” appears to be a euphemism for “Army-specific” while “multi-role” stands in for “more relevant to the Air Force.” Or in the more direct words of General Ray Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army, “we had a discussion about it as a joint group together once the decision was made… The Air Force made the decision.”
The Air Force probably saw its cost calibrations and decision-making process as a way of encouraging Congress to cut fat and protect the meat. But the Army and the Air Guard found it to be the exact opposite. As with most defense decisions, what you think is waste depends on your perspective.