Leonardo Aims For Broadened C-27J Airlifter’s Market Appeal

Leonardo C-27J NG
Credit: Leonardo

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia—Leonardo hopes to broaden the customer appeal of its C-27J Spartan airlifter by offering the aircraft as a multi-role platform.

So far, the twin-engine turboprop has been marketed largely as an airlifter, but now the airframer is planning to provide the aircraft with new capabilities. They would enable it to become an aerial firefighter; an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform; and a maritime patroller capable of performing both antisubmarine-warfare (ASW) and antisurface-warfare (ASuW) missions. 

“Our assessment of the market is that while transport is a big market, we don’t have to go in just that direction,” Christian Amendolagine, Leonardo’s senior vice president for airlifter and special-mission aircraft, told reporters here at the World Defense Show March 8. “We are trying to increase our market opportunities, . . . leaning off the flexibility of this aircraft.” 

As part of the efforts, Leonardo has given the aircraft a minor makeover with a modernized avionics suite to deal with new air traffic management regulations as well as enable Mode 5 identification-friend-or-foe, automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast (ADS-B) and satellite communications.

The aircraft also has been given winglets, which boost its payload capabilities by around 3,000 kg (6,600 lb.). The addition of the winglets meant the wing had to be strengthened, but this also has allowed the company to provide for a trio of hardpoints outboard of the engines. They would be suitable for the carriage of anti-ship missiles and air-droppable torpedoes for ASW/ASuW missions.

With these changes, the aircraft is being marketed as the C-27J Next Generation. Two of the aircraft have been delivered to an undisclosed customer, understood to be Turkmenistan, while a third is expected to be delivered to Slovenia as part of a €72 million ($79.2 million) government-to-government agreement signed last November. A total of 87 C-27Js are in service with 16 operators around the world.

Amendolagine said the new government-to-government approach to sales would open new opportunities for the C-27J platform.

At the show, Leonardo displayed a model of a notional ASW-configured C-27J with an extended tailcone housing a Magnetic Anomaly Detection boom, weapons under the wings and a search radar beneath the fuselage. The addition of an ASW C-27J configuration means Leonardo now offers two maritime-patrol aircraft, as the company also adapts the ATR family of regional turboprops for the mission. Amendolagine insists the two platforms do not compete, arguing the C-27J would better suit customers operating in more demanding environments and requiring longer endurance of 9-12 hr. The C-27J also can be refueled in mid-air; the ATR cannot. Amendolagine also reported  several C-27J customers had purchased a palletized VIP interior for the carriage of up to 29 passengers.

Leonardo brought an Italian Air Force C-27J to the show in Riyadh, but said its presence was not related to any campaign in Saudi Arabia or the region. The company would not comment on other sales drives in which the airlifter is participating.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.