DAYTON, Ohio – New cargo planes on order for the U.S. Air Force are being delivered straight into storage in the Arizona desert because the military has no use for them, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.
A dozen nearly new C-27J Spartans from Ohio and elsewhere have already been taken out of service and shipped to the so-called boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. Five more are expected to be built by April 2014, all of which are headed to the boneyard unless another use for them is found.
The Air Force has spent $567 million on 21 C-27J aircraft since 2007, according to purchasing officials at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Sixteen had been delivered by the end of September.
The Air Force nearly had to buy more of the planes against its will, the newspaper found. A solicitation issued from Wright-Patterson in May sought vendors to build more C-27Js, citing congressional language requiring the military to spend money budgeted for the planes, despite Pentagon protests.
Congress put the brakes on the expenditure, which was the right thing to do, according to government watchers such as Mike O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution. He said the planned additional purchase would have been "simply wasting precious taxpayer money."
The military initially wanted the C-27J because it had unique capabilities, such as the ability to take off and land on less-developed runways, according to Ethan Rosenkranz, national security analyst at the Project on Government Oversight. But when sequestration hit, the military realized the planes weren't a necessity, but instead a luxury it couldn't afford, he said. "When they start discarding these programs, it's wasteful," he said.
O'Hanlon said their near-resurrection was largely due to parochialism.
Ohio's Senate delegation was among the most ardent defenders of the C-27J when a mission at Mansfield Air National Guard Base, and 800 jobs there, depended on it.
Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and six other Democratic senators wrote a letter in 2011 urging the military to purchase up to 42 of the aircraft, saying too few planes "will weaken our national and homeland defense."
Military officials are working to find another user for the planes. In the meantime, they will be kept operational by the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group, overseen by Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson. It was established near Tucson after World War II because the region's low rainfall, humidity and soil minimize deterioration and corrosion.