PATUXENT RIVER, Md. - The U.S. Navy's C-2A Greyhound celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first flight November 18. The aircraft is the workhorse of the carrier strike group, having transported nearly four million pounds of cargo and mail, and more than 23,000 passengers between carriers and shore bases last year alone. The Navy currently has 32 C-2A aircraft in service, divided between two C-2 squadrons, a fleet training squadron, and a test and evaluation squadron. The first of two prototype aircraft first flew in 1964 from Bethpage, New York. Production began in 1965, and the aircraft entered service in 1966. In 1984, the Navy purchased 39 new C-2As to replace older airframes, which were phased out in 1987. The last C-2A was delivered in 1990.
Source: U.S. Navy
The Navy is now on the lookout for a replacement for the C-2A fleet. In May 2011, the Navy released a Request for Information (RFI) as part of an analysis of alternatives for the medium-lift/long-range carrier onboard delivery (COD) mission. The RFI stated that the Navy is considering options and needs for an aircraft in the 2026 timeframe, though the program could be pushed back due to budget cuts. The aircraft should have an unrefueled range of 1,300 nautical miles while carrying a payload of 4,000 pounds and be capable of carrying up to 10,000 pounds of cargo to and from a sea base.
Contenders include an updated version of the C-2A and a variant of the MV-22. Northrop Grumman would add the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye's engines to the C-2, as well as the E-2D's wings, tail assembly, and digital avionics. The Navy tested the MV-22 aboard the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman in 2013, and determined the aircraft would be well suited to the COD role. In its markup of the FY15 defense authorization bill, the House Armed Services Committee asked the Navy to provide additional details on this assessment.
Both aircraft offer benefits and tradeoffs. The C-2 features a pressurized cabin and has a longer range, and the Navy would benefit from commonality with the E-2D and the fact that the service already knows the best way to carry out the COD mission with the C-2. The MV-22, meanwhile, would offer more flexibility, including the ability to deliver cargo directly to smaller ships. Currently, cargo must first be delivered to an aircraft carrier aboard a C-2 and then transferred by helicopter to other ships.
For the time being, the Navy is carrying out a C-2 service life extension program that increases the service life from 10,000 flight hours with 15,000 carrier landings to 15,000 flight hours and 36,000 carrier landings. Additionally, the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) revealed in 2010 that Northrop Grumman was preparing a study to consider options for a more robust C-2A remanufacturing program. It is possible that the Navy could launch a modernization program that takes advantage of the E-2D production line, as the aircraft are closely related. The service may also opt for a brand-new aircraft.