I attended the 13th Helictoper Military Operations Technology Specialists' Meeting (HELMOT) in Williamsburg last week where Bruce Tenney, associate director for the Army's Aviation Applied Technology Directorate (AATD), talked about the Joint Future Theater Lift Concept. He called progress on the project "abysmal." And the reason for that is ... the Air Force.
The Army and the Air Force are being asked to work together to come up with a viable concept for Joint Future Theater Lift (JFTL), but they can't seem to meet in the middle. The Army of course backs Mounted Vertical Maneuver - the key word here: Vertical. The Air Force would rather have a super-short takeoff fixed wing aircraft to replace its C-130. Both services have requirements that seem mutually exclusive and yet they are being asked to make a decision on an initial capabilities document (ICD) so they can move forward to an analysis of alternatives (AOA) so they can move forward to ... you get the idea. The services need some kind of intra-theater lift and they need to get started on it soon.
So why can't they agree? I have to side with the Army on this one. In tight spaces and forward areas, you don't have the luxury of a long, clean runway that isn't festooned with IEDs or guys camped out with shoulder-mounted missiles. The Air Force is used to doing business one way - their concept of lift is very different from the Army's. But they're going to need to compromise if this aircraft is ever going to see the battlefield.
I'd be interested to hear what the Air Force's rationale is against vertical maneuver, aside from mere doctrinal habit. But the service has remained mum thus far on its objections. At this point, the entire program is at risk of missing its slot in the next Program Objective Memorandum.