The Italian air force (AMI) is expected to sign a deal to convert several of its C-27J Spartan tactical transports into gunships at the Dubai Air Show on Monday.
Aviation Week ShowNews understands that six of the air arm’s 12 C-27Js will be converted into the MC-27J gunship variant, currently under development by manufacturer AleniaAermacchi, ATK and Selex ES. The aircraft are expected to be assigned to support Italian Special Forces units.
The deal makes the AMI the launch customer for the program, which has also garnered interest from other C-27 operators. It also makes Italy the first European country to operate a gunship of this kind.
Three of the aircraft will undergo the full conversion program while the other three will be configured to take the system when required. The deal is expected to include development, evaluation, certification and logistic support for the aircraft. A single prototype, separate from the MC-27J demonstrator, will be used to test the systems.
The MC-27J makes use of palletized systems. The mission control system and the gun are self-powered and fit snugly into the cargo hold with no need to plug them into the aircraft power systems. On the ground, the pallets can simply be plugged into mains power to re-charge the batteries. The companies have set a time limit of four hours to role and de-role the aircraft from its gunship configuration back into the C-27J’s standard transport role but engineers have been able to do it in a quarter of that time.
The company is also expected to announce the results of a second phase of testing which integrates ATK’s ScatheView mission system with an electro-optical sensor and the electronically traversable ATK-produced 30mm GAU-23 cannon, which is fired from the port-side paratroop door. The company has already completed Phase 1 of the program, which saw a series of firing trials being flown in partnership with the USAF over the Gulf of Mexico in April.
A third phase of integration will add the capability to carry and launch precision-guided weapons. The munitions could include the Raytheon AGM-175 Griffin or the Northrop Grumman GBU-44 Viper Strike. These are likely to be soft-fired either by opening the ramp and ejecting the weapons out the back of the aircraft or potentially dropped through a series of launch tubes cut out of the cargo loading ramp. The gun pallet currently carries around 500 rounds of ammunition with gunners generally firing a burst of eight rounds when engaging targets.