Northrop Grumman is developing a palletised roll on-roll off gunship option for the C-27J Spartan transport.
The Palletised Weapons System (PaWS) is a GAU-23 30mm Bushmaster cannon, ammunition racks and operator consoles which roll in and out of the cargo hold of a C-27J Spartan on standard cargo pallets.
The company promotes a conversion time from a transport to a gunship configuration of four hours, but says it has done it in two.
Although this isn’t a capability for which the RAAF has formally expressed a requirement, the company says it has had discussions. Northrop Grumman is the RAAF C-27J platform steward, and as such has intimate knowledge of the aircraft’s systems and capabilities.
“The Australian Air Force are interested in for now, the intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) portion of PaWS, which is the heart of the system, with other capabilities potentially down the road,” Northrop Grumman senior business development representative for special mission aircraft, Chris Foster told ADBR.
He said PaWS featured modular open architecture which meant it was highly adaptable. “We can put it on and make you a surveillance package, but down the line if you wanted to have a strike package or a medevac or casevac, we can certainly do that as well.”
The Italian air force with its fleet of 12 C-27Js is the launch customer for the gunship capability which has been trialled in Italy in its basic form, with the gun firing from the port side troop door. The next step will be the development of trainable software to allow the gun to be linked to the aircraft’s EO/IR system, and aimed by the onboard operator.
As a follow-on, with a palletised Common Launch Tube system the C-27J could also deliver small precision guided weapons, flares, sonobuoys, or drones.
In order for any of this to work properly from a C-27J, the aircraft would need to have an onboard EO/IR system integrated.
Foster said that while the 30mm gun is a graphic and impressive capability, PaWS was much more, and its heart was the onboard mission management systems. “With PaWS, we can host a variety of sensors, radars, radio, datalink equipment and EO/IR solutions. It can all be built specific to the mission our customers need to prosecute.”
This would give the C-27J a surveillance, search and rescue (SAR) or humanitarian and disaster relief mission (HADR) capability.
“You can have anywhere from one to three of these mission operating systems,” Foster said. “The beauty of it is it is all open architecture. Whatever plug and play aspect of a mission system you want to put into it we can integrate it into this mission management system.
“The operators can operate sensors, fire weapons, as well as the pilots. But all the action happens right here at our mission operating system.”
The RAAF took delivery of its 10th and final C-27J in April 2018. Initial Operating Capability (IOC) was declared in December 2016, while Final Operating Capability (FOC) is scheduled for late 2019 when 35SQN relocates from Richmond to its new home base at Amberley.
EDITOR’S NOTE: While the NG proposal has merit for an air force that traditionally has had to do more with less, Defence sources tell ADBR that the focus for the RAAF C-27J capability is to develop its Army support, HADR, and regional engagement roles. Further, with just 10 airframes in the inventory, there likely isn’t sufficient capacity to cover such a specialised capability.