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Turbojet Tankers For The Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF)
AUTHOR Major A. P. Avery, USMC
CSC 1988
                Executive Summary
Title:  Turbojet Tankers for the Marine Air Ground Task
Force (MAGTF)
I.    Purpose:  To establish the need for dedicated
turbojet tanker support for the deployment of the Air
Combat Element (ACE) of the MAGTF.
II.   Thesis:   The U.S. Marine Corps needs turbojet
tankers to ensure timely deployment of its tactical
fixed-wing aircraft.  The Marine KC-130 turboprop tanker
is very limited in its strategic tanking capability.  The
U.S. Air Force controls all U.S. turbojet tankers for
support of strategic deployment.  The potential demand for
turbojet tanker support in crisis and war is much greater
than the Air Force can support in a timely manner.
III.  Data:  The Marine Corps tasks organizes for combat
as a Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF).  Tactical
fixed-winged aircraft are integral to MAGTFs larger than
Marine Expeditionary Units (MEUs).  There is a critical
shortage of Air Force turbojet tankers to support that
move in crisis or war where the daily proliferating number
of air-refuelable aircraft increases the demand for tanker
support.  Any air-refuelable aircraft not needed on a
first priority at the central focus of the crisis or war
will have to wait for available tanker support.  In any
but an "only war in town" scenario the lightly armored and
equipped USMC will most likely find itself fighting a
vicious but peripheral war, not the priority war.  In this
case its most potent supporting arm may not be the
priority tanker supported move the Marine Corps needs it
to be.
IV.   Conclusions:  The Marine Corps can, where possible,
move by the unattrative method of "island hopping" or use
its limited tactical tanker assets in a less than optimum
role  The real alternative is turbojet tankers dedicated
to moving the USMC.  They can be paid for by the USMC and
flown by the USAF or owned and flown by the USMC.
V.    Recommendations:   The Marine Corps should own and
fly turbojet tankers.   The advantages of direct control
and integration offered would be priceless in peace,
crisis, and war when strategic deployments are required.
   Turbojet Tankers for the Marine Air Ground Task Force
    Thesis statement:  The U.S. Marine Corps needs
turbojet tankers to ensure timely deployment of its
tactical aircraft.
   I.   Aerial refueling background
        A.  Historical
        B.  Advantages
        C.  Disadvantages
   II.  Current USMC tanker status
        A.  Active and reserve
        B.  Tactical and strategic usage
   III. Current U.S. Air Force tanker status
        A.  Priorities
        B.  Numbers of airframes
   IV.  Conflict between USAF tanker priorities and USMC
MAGTF deployment
        A.  Tanker deployment allocation
        B.  Example
   V.   Potential answers to conflict
        A.  Comparisons
        B.  Recommendations
Turbojet Tankers for the Marine Air Ground Task Force
    "Our Marine Corps task organizes for combat into
appropriately sized Marine Air-Ground Task Forces
(MAGTFs).  Efficient integration and utilization of Marine
aviation and the other supporting arms in the MAGTF
environment are an absolute necessity if we are to take
advantage of the multiplication of combat power offered by
these supporting arms.  Understanding the mission,
function, organization and equipment of these supporting
arms will help to truly plan and operate as a combined
arms force."1
    This statement is correct and it is important beyond
the immediate implications.  Special emphasis should be
placed not only on understanding how to fight a MAGTF but
on how the MAGTF will come into being.  This
paperaddresses the tactical fixed-wing portion of the
MAGTF in peace, crisis, and war situations of such
magnitude that there will be considerable and justified
competition for U.S. Air Force (USAF) strategic tanker
    Wing walkers with gas cans strapped to their backs
performed the first aerial refuelings.  The first from one
aircraft to another using a hose was in 1923 when U.S.
Army officers, Captain Smith and Lieutenant Richter, were
refueled every six hours by a second plane flown by
Lieutenants Hine and Seifert in their record setting
endurance flight of 37 hours and 15 minutes.2  No real
military application was made until after World War II
when the culmination of British and American efforts led
to two different systems: the hose and drogue used by most
nations with  an aerial refueling capability as well as
the U.S. Navy (USN), USMC, and for a period the USAF
before it adopted the flying boom.
    What are the benefits derived from aerial refueling
that have led to the present worldwide usage of military
tankers?  Are there any real disadvantages associated with
aerial refueling?
    The three primary advantages of aerial refueling are:
"(1) It significantly increases the time an aircraft can
remain airborne; (2) It increases the range of an
aircraft; and (3) It reduces the time needed to cover
great distances."3  These basics offer extreme amounts of
flexibility to tactical aircraft, whether moving them
great distances or allowing them to fly further and faster
and engage the enemy at the place of their own choosing,
or to fly with increased weapons loads.  There are
literally dozens of aviation tasks that are enhanced by
aerial refueling.  These benefits make the tanker a true
force multiplier.
    The main problem associated with tankers is that there
is often an insufficient number of them.  This was
recently illustrated in the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas
conflict where both the British and Argentine forces
suffered from too few tankers.
    The British had 23 strategic tankers at the start of
the war.  It was approximately 4,000 miles from England to
Ascension Island and a roughly equal distance from
Ascension to the Falklands.  The logistics support for
this distance demanded strategic aerial refueling to
support the force buildup at Ascension and to support the
fleet with air drops in the South Atlantic.
    The British realized, after the bullets were flying,
that they had to increase the capability of their air
force.  It took eight Victor tankers to support one
strategic ocean reconnaissance mission:  four refueling
outbound and four on return.  Similar demands were made to
support the logistics missions and deployment of tactical
aircraft.  To complement the Victor tanker force, the
British converted nine additional Victors, six Hercules
transports, and six Vulcan bombers to tankers.  It took
all the tanker support they could muster.  Under lessons
learned the British would list, "the tanker and logistic
missions, on the other hand, were often vital."4  This is
a typical understatement since it is doubtful that many of
the aviation reconnaisance and logistics missions could
have been completed without tanker support.  The British
are currently converting civilian Lockheed L-1011
wide-body airliners to a strategic tanker configuration.
    The Argentines, on the other hand, could not have
fought the war without their C-130 Hercules in the roles
of tactical transport, air-refueling, and reconnaissance.5
 The main problem with the Argentine tanker force was that
it only had two to support an air war at the extended
range of the fighter force.  No Skyhawks [fighters) were
lost after reaching the homeward bound refueling point and
that includes damaged aircraft and wounded pilots.6
    The conflict in the South Atlantic illustrated the
worth of the old saying, "a bird in the hand is worth two
in the bush."  Tankers are great force multipliers, when
you have them.
    The USMC currently has a very good tactical tanker
capability.  The Lockheed Hercules KC-130 F,R, and T
models (turboprop) are used by three active duty squadrons
and one active duty training squadron and by two reserve
squadrons.  The KC-130 is capable of drogue configurations
that will allow it to refuel either fixed-wing or
air-refuelable helicopters (CH-53E).
    Personal experience as a KC-130 pilot has shown me the
strong and weak points of the KC-130.  It is excellent in
the lower level tactical environment and adequate at
higher altitudes where the relatively slow speed of the
KC-130 offers an "extra challenge" to the fixed-wing
(turbojet) pilot often requiring, as he takes on fuel and
gets heavier, that he lower a small amount of flaps (A-6)
or bump after-burner (F-4) to stay in the basket and
complete aerial refueling.
    If the tanker is very heavy and at a high altitude
when the fixed-wing receiver arrives he may have to set up
a "toboggan," a steady descent of a few hundred feet per
minute, to increase his airspeed to an acceptable one for
the receiver aircraft.  The KC-130 can not climb to the
long-range cruising altitudes where the turbojets are more
fuel efficient, so this requires the fixed-wing to descend
for refueling and then climb again to its best cruising
altitude. That is not a fuel efficient maneuver.
    In a tactical scenario where the tanker would be
working at a lower altitude, perhaps from short
expeditionary fields, several tankers at different places
at the same time could switch to a helicopter refueling
role in which the KC-130 is ideal.  If the scenario calls
for strategic refueling the KC-130 can do the job, but the
trade-offs should be considered.
    When the USAF strategically refuels USMC fixed-wing,
the turbojet tanker (KC-135 or KC-10) flies at speeds and
altitudes compatible with the fixed-wing receivers.
Additionally, these tankers provide the navigational and
high-frequency (HF) radio requirements that are necessary
during transoceanic flight.  When the KC-130 is the tanker
the fixed-wing must be accompanied by another aircraft,
usually a Navy KA-3 or C-9, to perform these functions.
    The number will vary somewhat but it can take 12
KC-130s up to twelve days to cross the Pacific Ocean with
one F-4 squadron from the U.S. west coast to Japan.  The
time required is reduced dramatically (approximately 4
days) when USAF tankers support the cross-Pacific move.
These tankers act as pathfinder and refueler, cruise at a
compatible altitude and carry up to ten times (depends on
type USAF tanker, KC-135A/R or KC-10) the off-load fuel of
a KC-130.7
    Additionally, the increased number of KC-130s
required, and their shorter range, would necessitate
basing at intermediate fields such as Lajes, Azores, or
Wake Island, which has another drawback: they would
compete for scarce ramp space and transient ground support
(in crisis) at these strategically located airfields.
Also, if the KC-130 is performing strategic aerial
refueling, it is not tactically refueling helicopters and
fixed-wing aircraft providing the flexibility and force
multiplication in theater which is their forte.
    There is little question that the best tanker support
for strategic deployment of fixed-wing turbojet aircraft
is a large turbojet tanker such as the KC-135 or KC-10.
The problem comes in peace, crisis, or war when there is
intense competition for USAF strategic tanker assets.
      In September 1982 I flew a Marine KC-130 tactical
tanker supporting the strategic deployment of AV-8A
Harrier aircraft to Norway for a joint and combined
military exercise.  There were also Marine A-6 Intruder
squadrons and F-4 Phantom squadrons crossing the Atlantic
with U.S. Air Force KC-135 and KC-10 strategic tanker
    The F-4s flew to Gander, Newfoundland, as their
jumping off point for the trans-Atlantic (Translant)
flight.  The aircraft scheduled to refuel and guide the
F-4 squadron was a U.S. Air Force KC-10.  The departure
was delayed due to inclement weather over the north
Atlantic.  Subsequently, the KC-10 was not available on
the next clear weather day because it was assigned to
Translant, a USAF fighter squadron, and would not be able
to get back to the USMC squadron for several days.  That
would be too late for the Marine squadron and the
exercise.  The Air Force did not have a substitute tanker
available, so another means was devised.
    After completing the Harrier refueling, the Marines
positioned my augmented tanker squadron of 18 KC-130
tankers, 6 in Canada, 6 in Iceland, and 6 in England, to
conduct a timely trans-Atlantic aerial refueling for the
F-4 squadron.  This was a workable but inefficient and
expensive solution.
    The routine competition for USAF tanker support is
keen.  It will only intensify as a world trouble spot
heats up:
       ... The 615 KC-135 tankers in the fleet were
    procured for the Strategic Air Command (SAC) and
    not for strategic deployment of other forces.  In
    any crisis with the USSR, the Commander in Chief,
    Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC), should have first
    call on these resources to support the Single
    Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP).  Yet, the
    entire fleet is insufficient to meet all SAC
    requirements, which amount to about 1,000 tankers.
    The proliferation of refuelable resources and the
    expanding need to use tankers for strategic
    deployments and tactical operations exacerbate this
    shortfall.  In a crisis, the national command
    authorities will be faced with a serious problem,
    choosing between supporting the SIOP and rapidly
    deploying a force overseas for deterrence.8
      In addition to the KC-135 fleet mentioned the Air
Force now has a capable fleet of 50 KC-10 tankers. (10
additional will be delivered within the year.)  Unlike the
KC-135, which has to be configured on the ground with a
non-hydraulic dampened refueling hose making it
temporarily incompatible with Air Force aircraft, the
KC-10 has both a hose and drogue compatible with Navy and
Marine aircraft and a flying boom compatible with Air
Force aircraft.  The KC-10 can use either of these without
having to land and reconfigure the aircraft.
    The addition of the KC-10 to the Air Force strategic
tanker inventory does make a very positive contribution to
our strategic tanker resource.  However, it does not solve
the tanker shortfall, which is an increasingly greater
problem with the now completed Air Force C-141B program
making all Air Force strategic transport aircraft (C-141B
and C-5A&B) aerial refuelable.  Additionally, the United
States has recently agreed to withdraw 72 F-16 fighters
from Spain.  If these aircraft are repositioned to the
continental United States, they too will join the queue
for strategic tankers support when required outside the
continental United States.
     Major M.R. Cobb, a concepts analyst for the Airpower
Research Institute, states:  "Competing requirements among
the services and Air Force commands have created a 
distinct shortfall of tanker assets."9
    "The MAGTF concept represents an innovative approach
to solving the problem of integrating land, sea, and air
operations."10  A Fleet Marine Force (FMF) is defined as,
"...a balanced force of combined air and ground arms
primarily trained, organized, and equipped for offensive
amphibious employment."11  Furthermore, "FMF elements are
typically employed as MAGTFs for the purpose of performing
amphibious assault operations, [and are] provided with
organic aviation units primarily organized, trained, and
equipped for support of ground units in amphibious
operations ...."12
       "In order to respond quickly to crisis, the
  Marine Corps must be able to rapidly expand its
  combat power in a threatened area by building upon
  forward deployed forces to form larger MAGTFs. ...
  It also requires that we develop a framework for
  forming and employing larger MAGTFs from smaller
  MAGTFs because we intend to employ our forces as
  MAFs Marine Amphibious Forces...."
    Throughout the world, Marine air trains regularly with
the Marine ground forces to keep the MAGTF concept viable
for combat.  In any crisis where military force is
positioned for potential use there will be claims on the
Air Force strategic tanker assets.   The first priority for
the tanker force is SIOP support.   When the number for
that is designated, and some are always required, the
remainder of the tanker force will support the various
Unified Commands in numbers approved by the Joint Chiefs
of Staff.  The Commander-in-Chief of each Unified Command
will decide what forces he wants moved, and when, by the
tankers.  It is a very real possibility that Marine
fixed-wing air will not be positioned in a timely manner
to support the plans of the MAGTF ground element because
of insufficient strategic tanker support.
    There are several possible solutions that range from
inexpensive to expensive and from barely acceptable to the
best possible solution.
    Marine tactical aircraft (AV-8B, A-6, F/A-18, A-4,
F-4, EA-6B) could deploy to Europe using a handful of
KC-130 tankers as airborne safety stations.  The north
Atlantic route via New Foundland, Greenland, Iceland, and
the United Kingdom, while not the most desirable nor
safest way to move, is within the capability of the
aircraft.  Careful planning and aircraft mixing, such as
high frequency radio equipped EA-6Bs with inertial
navigation system (INS) equipped A-6Es, would enhance the
safety factor.  Additionally, Marine C-9Bs, though not
normally used for the function, could act as pathfinder
aircraft for the movement of the tactical aircraft to
    However, the distances in the Pacific are so great
that a similiar nonair-refueled deployment is not within
the capability of Marine tactical fixed-wing.  Aerial
refueling would be required to bridge the California to
Hawaii gap.  Island airfield improvements and a southerly
navigation swing might allow a risky but possible movement
of the aircraft from Hawaii westward without aerial
    The Air Force is zealous in its position that it
should be the only service with strategic tankers, but the
Marine Corps needs the assurance of a few (three to six)
dedicated strategic tankers.  A tanker with a flying boom
compatible with all USAF air-refuelable aircraft could
never be truly considered dedicated.  However, a USAF
tanker could be dedicated to the Marines, especially if
the Marines funded the tanker and it was not configured
with a flying boom.
    These aircraft (most likely reworked Boeing 707 or
similiar aircraft) would be purchased by the Marine Corps
for the Air Force.  They would be equipped with hose and
drogue only and used for normal rotational transoceanic
deployment of Marine fixed-wing as well as crisis and
wartime deployment.   The aircraft would be compatible with
Navy air-refueling needs and to a point could be used by
the Navy for routine deployment.    Problems could
potentially arise in crisis and war when the Navy claimed
these tankers (especially since Marine aircraft
procurement dollars are sourced from the Navy) and the
Marines would fall back to their original position of
risky transit, long wait, or no transit.
    Another option, originally voided by former Secretary
of the Navy Lehman, to have eighteen reworked hose and
drogue strategic tankers crewed by Navy and Marine reserve
crews is an excellent idea offering the Navy's Maritime
Strategy a flexibility that is outside the scope of this
paper, but one that would give acceptable deployment
parameters to Marine fixed-wing in crisis and war.
Unfortunately, at this time, this option has met budgetary
defeat and in the current austerity movement may not be
revived in a timely manner.  It is also opposed by the
    Another alternative would be to have three to six
turbojet tankers that belong to the Marines and are
assigned in direct support of the 2d and 3rd Marine Air
Wings (MAWs).  It would not matter whether the crews were
active or reserve as either could be made to work.  These
turbojet tankers, most likely reworked used airliners in
the British or Canadian mode, would be a part of the air
wings that conduct fixed-wing unit deployment, exercise in
Europe and have the greatest distances to go in crisis and
war.  These tankers, as integral wing aircraft, just like
the tactical aircraft would be under the direct control of
the wing commanding general (CG) and responsive to his
needs in a time sensitive manner.
    Despite USAF arguments as to the need for one operator
of turbojet tankers, the fact is if the Marine Corps has
to ask for the support there is the distinct possibility
it will not receive it, especially if it is a highly
valued commodity that is in short supply.  In any scenario
where  the Marines are not fighting "the only war in town"
they can expect to be on the periphery of the major
conflict.  If they fight at the periphery (i.e. Norway)
they cannot expect to have first call on the assets
massing forces for concentration at the main point of
attack.  That, while good strategic policy for the U.S.,
will leave the Marines out on a limb.  The following is
worth noting.  "The combined KC-10 and KC-135R programs,
however, will not satisfy the tanker shortfall forecast
for the next 15 years."14
    The bottom line is that the Marine Corps needs to have
an alternative to deploying its fixed-wing aircraft
available and ready to go.  If it is to be island hopping
in the north Atlantic, the plans must be ready and on the
shelf, not an inconsiderable feat when it is planned as a
year-round contingency.  The Pacific island airfields from
Hawaii on west would need to be checked for needed
improvements and the improvements would have to be made.
    If the risk factor for the island hopping is
considered too high, then funding tankers for the USAF or
for the USMC must be considered even at the expense of
some new fixed-wing aircraft.  Tactical fixed-wing
aircraft that are stuck in the U.S. are of little value to
Marines in battle.
    Our current crisis or war fixed-wing deployment plan
is close to being a dice roll with the USMC betting on the
come.  We can do better, whether by pre-planning to
decrease some risk in a risky option or by spending some
money on an unglamorous option that increases our chances
considerably of moving the tactical fixed-wing assets in a
timely manner.  We should do one or the other or both.
1 IP5-7,Fleet Marine Force Aviation, Education Center,
June 1987, MCDEC Quantico, Virginia.
2 C.H. Hildreth and B.C. Nalty, 1001 Questions Answered
About Aviation History(New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co.,
1969)p. 184-185.
3 Marck R. Cobb, Major, USAF, The Need for a Multipoint,
Dual-System Capability, AU-ARI-CP-87-3, (Airpower Research
Institute, 1983), p. 3.
4 Department of the Navy. Lessons of the Falklands,
February 1983, p. 25.
5 R.A. Burden, et al., Falklands the Air War(Dorset: Arms
and Armour Press Limited, 1986), p. 76.
6 ibid., p. 78.
7 Raymond R. Powell, Col., USMC, Ret., "A Case for Navy
Land-Based Tankers," Amphibious Warfare Review, 5 (Summer
1987) 94.
8 Stuart L. Perkins, Global Demands: Limited Forces
(National  Defense University Press, 1984), p. 47.
9 Cobb, p. 29.
10 D.A. Quinlan, Col., USMC, The Role of the Marine Corps
in Rapid Deployment Forces, (National Defense University
press, 1983), p. 25?.
11 IP 1-4, Fleet Marine Force, Education Center, MCDEC
Quantico, Virginia, p. 2-3.
12 ibid., p. 2-4.
13 USMC Deputy Chief of Staff for Requirements and
Programs, "Marine Corps 1987 Concepts and Issues,"
Headquarters, Marine Corps Requirements and Programs
Division, 1987, p. 9.
14 "Modernizing the Aerial Tanker Fleet: Prospects for
Capacity, Timing, and Cost" as quoted in the Congressional
Budget Office, September 1985 p. 23-28.  Cobb, p. 31.
Burden, R.A., et al.. Falklands the Air War. Dorset. Arms
and Armour Press Limited, 1986.
Cobb, Marck R., Major, USAF. The Need for a Multipoint,
Dual System Capability, AU-ARI-CP-87-3. Airpower Research
Institute, 1983.
Hildreath, C.H. and Nalty, B.C.. 1001 Questions Answered
About Aviation History. New York: Dodd, Mead, and Co.,
Perkins, Stuart L.. Global Demands: Limited Forces.
National Defense University Press, 1984.
Powell, Raymond R., Col. USMC, Ret.. "A Case for Navy
Land-Based Tankers." AmphibiousWarfare Review, 5 (Summer
1987) 94.
Quinlan, D.A., Col., USMC. The Role of the Marine Corps in
Rapid Deployment Forces. National Defense University
Press, 1983.
Department of the Navy. Lessons of the Falklands. February
IP  1-4. Fleet Marine Force. Education Center. June 1987.
IP 5-7.Fleet Marine Force  Aviation. Education Center.
September 1985.
USMC Deputy Chief of Staff for Requirements and Programs,
"Marine Corps 1987 Concepts and Issues." 1987

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