The U. S. Army announced a $2.04 billion contract award June 13 to L-3 Communications Integrated Systems for their C-27J Spartan to be the Joint Cargo Aircraft.

This JCA program is a combined Air Force and Army effort to have an airframe that will meet warfighter needs for intratheater airlift.

"This is a great day for all of us." said Maj. Gen. Marshall K. Sabol, Air Force deputy chief of staff for Air, Space and Information Operations, Plans and Requirements. "We've been working hard together with the Army on all the requirements, and we've come up with a joint airplane, the same airplane, working on the same mission."

Army and Air Force leaders said the JCA will bring advantages to both services and also assist in the recapitalization efforts of both services.

"We have old aircraft that are not designed to operate at the loads or altitudes we operate in today," said Brig. Gen. Stephen Mundt, director of Army Aviation. "This airframe allows us to get to the altitude we need and (carry the) standardized (cargo) pallets that both services use."

General Sabol relayed some personal experience from Iraq as to why the JCA is needed.

The Air Force flew C-130 Hercules aircraft many times in Iraq, carrying just a few passengers or a single pallet of medical goods, because that is what the warfighters needed at that moment, he said. This is not a very efficient use of an aircraft, but the warfighters' needs come first.

This underutilization of the cargo area in a C-130 is a main reason the JCA was developed. The C-130 and the Army's C-12, C-26 and C-23 do not efficiently satisfy the requirements for the warfighter, the joint leaders said.

"We have always been there to support the warfighter," General Sabol said. "Where this aircraft will fit extremely well (is where) it will relieve the C-130s usage and provide us the ability to meet the time-sensitive, mission-critical needs to the forward deployed warfighter."

The contract to L-3 provides for 78 JCAs, pilot and loadmaster training and contractor logistics support for the Army and Air Force.

"The JCA is a key new element of our nation's mobility system," said Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley. "In fielding this new capability, I see a symbolic relationship between the JCA and our Total Force that is significant to all of us."