Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told members of the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday that he expects the Pentagon's strategic review to be complete by year's end. That review is likely to outline the fate of the Air National Guard's newest airlifter, the C-27J, which embarked on its first deployment to Afghanistan this summer. The service already has purchased 21 aircraft, with plans to purchase 17 more. However, that appears to be under debate as service leaders grapple with fiscal uncertainties. Schwartz said the "decision is not final" over whether to put the remaining C-27Js on the chopping block, but he added that such a move "would be extremely painful to me personally." He explained that he made a "commitment" to retired Gen. George Casey, former Army Chief of Staff, "that I would not do this deal with him and then back out." The C-27J was originally an Army program, but was later transferred to the Air Force. "That was two years ago, so I've got personal skin in this," said Schwartz. But, Schwartz also said that budget constraints are forcing the Air Force to look at reducing entire fleets, "not a few here and a few there.
The C-27J was procured to backfill the tactical airlift gap created by the culling of the C-130s from the Air National Guard. As Katrina proved, the ability of the Air National Guard to use C-130s to move materials into Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana was critical to restoring infrastructure and services. Despite this track record, the 2005 Base Re-Aslignment and Closure (BRAC) recommendations was to cull most of the C-130Hs and C-130Js from ANG. The C-27J was a stop-gap to allow the National Guard some tactical airlift for contingency response and homeland security. Barely a year after the first C-27s were fielded, the remaining airframes are in jeopard of being slashed. Not only will these airframes never get purchased, there is no other option available to the states.