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Naval Aviation:  Running On Fumes
CSC 1992
Title:  Naval Aviation:  Running on Fumes
Author:  Major Russell H. Bell, United States Marine Corps
Thesis:  The current requirement that the Navy must use Air Force
tankers in meeting its need for strategic refueling has proven
itself inadequate and unresponsive and the time has come for the
Navy to obtain its own land-based tankers.
Background:  Recent events both abroad and at home have had major
impact on our military structure.  The military of the 1990s is
faced with large force and budgetary reductions while still being
tasked to carry out a strategy based on superpower status vice
isolationism.  Such conditions should once again place our Naval
forces as our choice for crisis response and force projection.
Fewer bases overseas coupled with fewer operational assets will
cause the Navy to rely more and more on strategic refueling.
Recognizing such a possibility back in 1985, the Navy attempted to
obtain its own land-based tanker force but was forced to utilize
Air Force assets through a memorandum of agreement.  Over the years
this arrangement has been barely adequate. Recent experiences in
Operation Desert Storm only highlighted the deficiencies in tanker
configuration and methods of tasking.  The Navy must be able to
provide each unified commander with a realistic assessment of its
ability  to  respond  to  assigned  missions.  Many  of  these
contingencies require land-based tankers which places the Navy at
the mercy of another service.
Recommendation:  The Navy of the 1990s must be a self-contained
deployable force ready to meet any commitment.  Therefore it must
possess land-based tankers configured to support the fleet and
capable of immediate response.
                       NAVAL AVIATION:  RUNNING ON FUMES
Thesis statement.  The current requirement that the Navy must use
Air Force tankers in meeting its need for strategic refueling has
proven itself inadequate and unresponsive and the time has come for
the Navy to obtain its own land-based tankers.
I.    The Military Force of the 1990s
      A. Life for the Military after the Cold War
      B. Military Response to Force Reductions
      C. Navy's Role in this Environment
II.   Aerial Refueling
      A. Role in Past Operations
      B. Its Flexibility and Advantages
III.  History of Aerial Refueling
      A. Development of the Air Force System
      B. Development of the Navy System
IV.   Navy's Need for Land-Based Tankers
      A. Its Own Shortcomings
      B. Its Attempt to Obtain Land-Based Tankers
V.    Deficiencies in Current Inter-service Tanker Agreement
      A. Inadequate Numbers
      B. Non-standard Configuration
      C. Differences in Tasking Methods
VI.   Options for the Navy
      A. Maintain Status Quo
      B. Reconfigure Their Own Tactical Fleet
      C. Obtain Their Own Tankers
                                 by Major Russell H. Bell, USMC
      The 1990s are proving to be a perplexing time for our military
leaders.   After the feel-good success of the successful Desert
Storm operation the honeymoon has ended.   Chants of "Yankee Go
Home" are being replaced by the American voter saying, "Yankee Come
Home."(3:44)  The crumbling of the Soviet Union has muted the Cold
War rhetoric.  Rhetoric of self-defense has changed to one of self-
help in terms of obtaining a peace dividend through the reduction
of our military budget.  Current plans call for a cut of fifty
billion dollars in the defense budget over the next five years.
Also, a reduction of the active force by 25 percent is planned over
the same period.  As drastic as this seems, there are some people
in Congress calling for even deeper cuts.(12:4)  This proves that
without a superpower threat, such as we had with the Soviet Union,
the military finds it very difficult to justify its former budget.
      The key idea now being used by military planners is "force
base structure."  Instead of planning to fight another superpower
or a war to end all wars, we must be ready to respond to regional
crisis throughout the world.  The current plan is to be able to
respond simultaneously to two major crises half a world apart with
adequate forces for a successful outcome.  The National Strategy,
as  stated  by  the  President,  is  one  global  presence  not
isolationism.  The pros and cons of such a policy will be debated
for many years to come.   The simple fact is that the American
people are calling for major reductions in the military while still
demanding we defend our interests throughout the world.
      To meet our worldwide requirements militarily, a system of
unified commands has been established.  This allows the synergistic
use of total U.S. military power by allowing one commander to
exercise full authority over all forces assigned to his area of
operations.  In devising his operation plan (OPLAN), this commander
in chief(CinC) is relying on many inputs and assumptions.   The
implementation of his plan to meet the strategic goals assigned to
his area of operations must be obtained by a realistic assessment
from  service  component  commanders  on  their  capabilities  and
limitations.  As discussed earlier, the reality of reduced budgets,
decreasing forces and reduction of overseas basing is of great
concern to each service.  To accomplish our military objectives for
the future we will likely see more "joint operations" such as
Desert Storm.
      In such an environment, the Navy's capabilities will place it
in the forefront as the force of choice.  For the first time in
over forty years our  focus of effort is no longer based on
containment of communism or of nuclear mutual destruction.  The
maintenance of large continental forces and systems to defend our
allies from Soviet aggression is unnecessary.(3:45)  Due to our
geographic  isolation  and  need  to  protect  our  sea  lanes  of
communications, we should be returning to a pre-World War II
maritime posture as we assume our role as the only legitimate
superpower.  The Navy must take steps now to obtain dedicated land-
based refueling assets.   Such actions are due to the stand off
range of many new weapons systems which force the carrier or
amphibious task force to operate farther out to sea.  This idea of
"over-the-horizon" operations coupled with the shorter distances
our modern fighters can fly has caused serious tradeoffs between
bomb loads and fuel loading.  Dedicated land-based tankers will
provide the Navy/Marine task force the operational reach of its air
arm to accomplish any assigned mission.
      Since its inception, aerial refueling has become a tremendous
advancement for airpower.   Its importance to a commander on the
modern battlefield can be shown in the fact that during Operation
Desert Storm, the Air Force alone, conducted about 51,700 separate
refueling operations and delivered more than 125 million gallons of
fuel.(8:2)   The  advantages  to  the  commander with  sufficient
refueling assets are many.  First, it provides him with a limitless
strategic or operational reach as he projects his power.  The Libya
Raid of 1986 in which F-111s launched from England to bomb Libya
without violating any international (read France) airspace is a
classic  example.  Operation  Eastern  Exit,  the  noncombatant
evacuation of Mogadish, Somalia, was a successful crisis response
due to the ability of the CH-53 to be refueled in flight. The
availability of tankers allowed the helicopters to launch from
ships over 300 miles out from Mogadish to successfully accomplish
their mission.  To planners on the commander's staff, refueling is
thought of as a "force multiplier."  By extending the range or time
an aircraft  can  stay  airborne  you have  eliminated  the  time
consuming ground turnaround, allowing more sorties flown with fewer
assets.  Refueling adds safety to any plan by allowing commanders
and planners to offset problems with range and weather which at
times could be the single factors in deciding "go or no-go"
measures for the assigned mission.
      Benefits from such capabilities trickle down to the people in
the cockpit and on the ground.  Once planes launch on a flight the
time clock starts ticking, especially in terms of fuel endurance.
By having refuelers in support of the strike package many options
are available.  In Southwest Asia firepower was increased by having
attack aircraft takeoff at minimum fuel which allows more bombs to
be carried.  Once airborne they could top-off their tanks, achieving
maximum ordnance and fuel loading.  On station, refuelers give the
aircraft the ability to loiter, allowing for the maximum effective
employment against ground targets.  In addition, with airborne
tankers,  the pilot's concern about adverse weather and battle
damage can be eased.  This allows his full attention to be focused
on the mission at hand.
      In 1954 the Strategic Air Command (SAC) identified a need for
land-based tankers and tasked Boeing Aircraft Company to provide a
suitable platform.  The purpose of these tankers would be to extend
the range of existing aircraft so as to make deep nuclear strikes
against potential foes.  On 31 August 1956, at Castle Air Force
Base, California, the first KC-135 (a converted Boeing 707) was
delivered.  Over 730 aircraft were delivered to the Air Force, the
last one in 1965.  The KC-135 has a range of 1,150 miles with
120,000 pounds of fuel it can off-load.  Flying at speeds of 530
miles per hour at 30,000 feet, it has a service ceiling of 50,000
feet.  Currently undergoing a service life extension program on the
airframe and installation of new turbofan engines, the KC-135 will
be around into the next century.(9:2)
      In 1981 the Air Force received from the Douglas Aircraft
Company their first KC-10A Extender.   Derived from the basic
commercial  model  DC-10,  this  aircraft  was  both  tanker  and
transport.   The specifications for this aircraft included the
ability to off-load 200,000 pounds of fuel during a 4,400 nautical
mile round-trip.   The final product flew 520 miles per hour,
achieved a service ceiling of 42,000 feet, and had a maximum
takeoff weight of 590,000 pounds (with 356,000 pounds consisting of
fuel).  When this contract is completed in the near future, the Air
Force will have approximately 99 KC-10s.(8:2)
      The systems utilized by both of these aircraft to pass fuel to
their respected receivers is an aerial refueling boom. This boom is
operated by an individual called a boom operator.  He manipulates
the boom so as to plug-in the receiving jet.  The receiving pilot
positions himself into the proper place to be refueled by flying
off a series of position lights located on the belly of the tanker.
This system was adopted by the Air Force back in the 1950s when the
need was to refuel such planes as the B-52 and F-101 Voodoo for
their deep strike missions.
      The Navy on the other hand took a different perspective. In
1957 Douglas Aircraft Company designed a self contained, in-flight
refueling pod designed to be fitted onto tactical jets.  This pod
was first fitted to the A-4 Skyhawk.  The first aircraft capable of
hooking into it was the F3H-2N Demon.  Eventually, just like the
Air Force, all tactical naval jet aircraft were required to be
capable of aerial refueling.   Today the Navy relies on the S-3
Viking, the A-6 Intruder and the A-7 Corsair to meet it daily
refueler requirements when underway.  Navy doctrine considered a
standard area of operations as being within a radius of 200-300
miles around a carrier task force.   This requires only limited
refueling requirements to provide for the safe recovery of aircraft
to the carrier.
      The only land-based tankers in the Naval Service inventory are
the 36 KC-130s operated by three active duty Marine Squadrons and
24 KC-130s operated by Marine Reserve Squadrons.  These aircraft
are a vast improvement over other Navy platforms in terms of
payload but still deficient in speed, altitude limitations and
operational  range  to  fulfill  the  Navy's  need  for  strategic
      The system utilized by the Naval Service is 180 degrees out
from the Air Force's method.  Known as the "probe and drogue," it
requires the pilot to execute the join-up to receive fuel.  A hose
of approximately 85 feet is extended from a pod under each wing tip
of the refueler.  At the end of the hose is a "basket" device known
as the drogue.  The receiver aircraft has a refueling probe that he
must drive into the basket, thereby securing a positive coupling to
receive fuel.  This limited system has proven itself adequate over
the years primarily because of the limited space on the carriers
which  commands  the  need  to  reconfigure  tactical  jets  into
refuelers.  However, the system is quickly becoming outdated in
today's world of over-the-horizon operations, extended range in
force  projection  and  increased  Naval  participation  in  joint
operations such as Desert Storm.   Any of these missions listed
above can and have exceeded the refueling capabilities organic to
the carrier due to the amount of fuel required to off-load.
      The  Navy has  long  recognized  their  need  for  land-based
tankers.   In the early 1980s, then Secretary of the Navy John
Lehman started the ball rolling to obtain such assets.  The tanker
had to have the ability to deliver 100,000 pounds of fuel 1,000
miles from home base.  Such requirements were within the realm of
many current airframes.  The caveat was that the aircraft was to
have three hose-and-drogue transfer systems.(11:84)
      In 1985, Congress appropriate $110 million for the Navy to
convert  used  airliners  into  land-based  tankers.    Boeing  and
McDonnell Douglas responded to bid requests with proposals to
convert Boeing 707-300Cs or DC-8-54s or -62s.  The initial cost in
1985 for each plane ran between $750,000 to $3.5 million, depending
on its condition.  The major inspections to ensure airworthiness
and the conversion process would cost approximately $3 million
dollars.   Plans were developed to either procure or lease the
assets and place them under the Marine Corps' control to avoid the
restrictions  of  the  Navy-Air  Force  tanker  memorandum  of
understanding.  On 18 May 1986, Congress pulled all funds for this
project due to the Navy's failure to appropriate the funds in their
1986 budget, and due to Senator Goldwater's adamant opposition to
dedicated Navy land-based tankers.(11:84) As Senator Goldwater and
Senator Nunn told the Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger in a
fiery letter:
      The Air Force has a fleet of over 700 land-based tanker
      aircraft and the Navy wants to start its own fleet of 4
      to 8 aircraft.  A draft Memorandum of Agreement on tanker
      support has been awaiting Navy endorsement for over half
      a year... We hope you will assure that the Navy joins the
      rest of the country and obey the laws.
      After an incident in January 1986, few questioned the Navy's
need  for  land-based  refuelers.   An EA-3B electronic warfare
aircraft operating off the coast of Libya was intercepted by Libyan
jets.  The nearby carrier was  an older model with the short range
F/A 18 jets onboard and not enough refueling assets to maintain a
24 hour fighter combat air patrol up continuously.  This caused the
aircraft to remain on the deck with a two minute alert vice
airborne due to lack of refueling assets.  By the time they arrived
on the scene 15 minutes later, the incident was over with.  No harm
was done to the EA-3B but an unnecessarily dangerous situation was
allowed to develop.(6:104)  The Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary
of Defense still felt that the Air Force could provide the Navy the
refueling service that was required.   In July 1986,  the Navy
finally endorsed a memorandum of agreement which tasked the Air
Force with providing all land-based tanking requirements. The only
exceptions were the tankers operated by the Marine Corps to meet
their own special requirements.
      History has proven that such general agreements, while based
on the best  intentions,  provide barely adequate results when
implemented.  Several factors come into play when describing the
inadequacies of such a plan:  inadequate numbers of airframes, the
lack of standardization between the refueling systems of the two
services, and differences in the tasking requirements between the
services.   The basic problem rests with the fact that over the
years different courses of action were taken by each service and
now we are attempting to solve such shortcomings under the umbrella
of "jointness."
      The first factor of inadequate numbers of airframes, while
budgetary in nature, can also be attributed to Air Force policy
decisions.   As stated earlier,  the Air Force requirement for
refueling was based on the need for long range nuclear strikes
against our enemies.  Soon, aerial refueling was seen as such an
advantage  that  the  Air  Force  required  that  all  its  planes
(regardless of mission needs) have this ability.  The result is
that demand has at times exceeded supply, even during peace time.
This has caused the current force of tankers to be stretched
dangerously overworked.  Due to such demand the Navy mainly relies
on general  support  vice  the  direct  support  promised  in  the
memorandum.  General support allows the Air Force to maintain full
control over the refuelers.  The Navy can only request the support
needed and then let the Air Force choose how best to meet the
requirement.  During Operation Desert Storm some Navy units were
not  sure  on  if  or  what  type  of  refueler  they  would  be
utilizing.(13:67)  Direct support assigns specific refuelers by
type and number allowing the Navy to have operational control over
them.  Even when direct support is provided, the detailed planning
and finite time line generated is barely adequate.  Weather delays
during transoceanic flights have left many a squadron stuck at some
intermediate stop while attempts to reschedule KC-10 support were
underway.  During Operation Desert Shield and Storm, both Navy and
Marine  Corps  planners  were  extremely  concerned  about  the
availability of Air Force tankers.  General R. N. Moore Jr., 3d
Marine Aircraft Wing Commander, increased his tanker force to 18
KC-130s in Southwest Asia to insure his pilots would not be caught
short on fuel.  This ability of direct control was responsible for
the saving of two F/A-18s.  One night when airfields in the area
went below weather minimums,  a KC-130 was scrambled to their
rescue.  This provided them the needed fuel to reach a suitable
alternate field.
      The second factor is one of configuration.  The end result is
the same but the roads taken are completely different.   Such
differences require flexibility and modifications on both sides for
successful missions.  In the case of the KC-135, the airframe must
be conf igured with a hose assembly prior to launch to refuel Naval
aircraft.  This configuration consists of taking a rubber extension
hose and attaching it on the end of the KC-135's boom to hold the
drogue.   Such a system requires the pilot to make a "dead hose
plug" which provides little margin for error on the pilot's part
due to the rigidity of the hose.   Many a refueling probe has
separated from an aircraft due to the fact the hose lacked the
cushioning ability found on a drogue system.  The Marine Corps,
recognizing this potential problem, has directed the AV-8 community
to not use the KC-135 platform except in case of emergencies.
During Operations Desert Shield and Storm, the 3d Marine Aircraft
Wing did not allow their F/A-18s to refuel off a KC-135 at night,
and were directing the use of either KC-10s or KC-130s.(13:67)  The
number of hoses is also a factor in this configuration question.
When  utilizing  Air  Force  platforms  there  is  only  one  hose
available,  instead  of  the  normal  two  hoses  found  on  Naval
platforms.  Such an arrangement requires twice the refueling time
and there is no backup in case the hose is fouled, which is not an
uncommon event. (5: 3)
      Lack of standardization does not just  concern equipment but
carries over into the differences in the type of fuel used.
Aircraft operating off a carrier are required to use JP-5,  a
higher-flash point fuel, which reduces the threat of fire aboard
the carrier.  The Air Force, being land-based, uses JP-4, which
burns cleaner and is much lighter in weight.  These differences
require the Air Force to spend many man-hours in solving the
logistical problem of obtaining JP-5 and purging their tanks to
accommodate this fuel.
      Criteria for tasking caused many heated discussions in our
recent attempt at joint operations in Southwest Asia.   The Air
Force liked to set up refueling "tracks" throughout the theater
with KC-135s, while utilizing KC-10s to refuel the 135s.  One KC-10
can refuel three KC-135s, which provides a more efficient use of
limited tanker assets.  The Navy likes to provide direct support
for any strike package outbound.  Tankers will be tasked with such
missions and will be responsible for not only the total amount of
fuel required but also for ensuring that any contingency are
covered.  We will consider "time on tanker" and factor one and a
half hose per receiver to ensure he gets his fuel.  In Southwest
Asia, the Navy package of refuelers would consist of four aircraft
with eight hoses while the Air Force response would be one mission
gets one refueler with one hose.
      The Navy could continue with the status quo and stay at the
mercy of the Air Force.  This could have a devastating effect in
Naval operational planning.   As we reduce our forces and bases
overseas and at home, we will rely increasingly on our naval forces
to project national power.   The Air Force's plan to dismantle
certain SAC functions, strategic refueling being one of them, and
place them in the hands of local wing commanders will only create
more obstacles for the Navy to hurdle to accomplish its global
reach missions.
      One option would be for the Navy to reconfigure their planes
to accept the "boom" system used by the Air Force.  The cost in
itself is prohibitive.  This would also require a land-based tanker
over the carrier any time flight operations were being conducted,
since the carrier could no longer use its own assets to provide
      A more rational approach would be the one attempted in 1985
when the Navy tried to obtain its own tankers.   The Navy must
physically possess these assets so they can be configured to the
Naval system of drogues and multiple hoses in direct support to the
fleet commanders.
      The plane of  choice would be the KC-10 because  of  its
outstanding capabilities and the fact that the last 30 aircraft off
the production lines were configured with wing pods and a center
line hose.   The major difficulties with this plan would be the
opposition from the Air Force and Congress (as noted before) and
the total cost to buy and maintain this plane.   New facilities
would have to be erected and the Navy would have to establish a
supply/ maintenance/ training program to support this system.
      While the "Cadillac" of refuelers is probably not in the
future of the Navy, they may have stumbled onto a solution to their
problem.   In the early 1980s the Navy sought a replacement for
their C-130Qs which provided an airborne link world wide to their
submarines but were widely dispersed due to the aircraft's range.
The Navy decided the replacement would be the AWACS aircraft used
by the Air Force but minus the large radar dish.  They also decided
to relocate these squadrons to a central point in the continental
United States based on the jet's range and capability.   This
provided the Navy with the global reach required for its mission at
a reduced cost by concentrating assets.  It also was well received
in Congress because of the money it brought back into the United
States and the jobs it created since all maintenance was contracted
to civilians.
      The aircraft used for this mission is the Boeing 707, the same
airframe used for the KC-135.  The Navy, on a totally different
project, has established a support and operational system that
could meet its refueling needs.   With the Air Force's planned
stand-down of both tactical and strategic squadrons there should be
a few KC-135s that could be shuffled to the Navy.   Once these
aircraft are configured with the drogue system, they could be
assigned to the "VQ" squadron.  The actual numbers needed could be
debated for years but a ball park figure would be no fewer than
four and probably closer to the eight considered back in 1985.
These squadrons could assume the refueling mission along with its
other missions with little difficulty.
      The time has come for the Navy to gain operational control
over those tanking assets it needs to meet assigned missions.  An
excellent opportunity exists with the restructuring of the military
that  is  being  mandated  by  Congress  and  the  Navy's  growing
importance in the execution of this country's military strategy.
The  reduction  in  force  structure  should  produce  a  military
equipment surplus as it has done in the past.   The Navy should
actively seek a reallocation of some Air Force tankers into its own
fleet.  These tankers, once configured and dedicated will provide
the fleet with the service it needs which is not being met by the
1986 service agreement.   Failure this time by the Navy will
definitely have Naval Aviation running on fumes as it attempts to
meet its future requirements.
1. Ahirer, S., Maj., USMC.  "Night KC-135 Tanking."  Marine Corps
      Lessons Learned System, MCLLS #61973-97013 (00007)(1 April
      1991), 7.
2. Avery, A.P., Maj., USMC.  "Double-Duty Tankers. Naval Institute
      Proceedings, (June 1988), 24-26.
3.  Batcheller, Gordon D., Col., USMC (Ret).  "Where to Now?" Marine
      Corps Gazette, 75 (November 1991), 42-46.
4. Cronley, LtCol., USMC.  "KC-10 Refueling Hose."  Marine Corps
      Lessons Learned System, MCLLS #40948-10198 (01177) (22 March
      1990), 3.
5. Dudley, A., LtCol., USMC.  "Configuration of Air Force Tankers."
      Marine Corps Lessons Learned System, MCLLS #62143-33863
      (04861) (17 January 1991), 7.
6. Fullenkamp, Bernie, Maj., USAF.  "Double-Duty Tankers."  Naval
      Institute Proceedings, (February 1988), 103-106.
7.  Johnson, LtCol., USMC.  "Availability of Strategic Tanking."
      Marine Corps Lessons Learned System, MCLLS #62759-62173
      (00008) (3 September 1990), 8.
8.  KC-10A Extender.  Air Force Internal Information:  Fact Sheet
9. KC-135 Stratotanker.  Air Force Internal Information:  Fact Sheet
10. Liebman, Marc E., Capt., USNR.  "Navy Tankers are Needed Now!"
      Naval Institute Proceedings, (September 1991), 82-84.
11. Liebman, Marc E., Capt., USNR.  "The Last Try for Navy Tankers."
      Naval Institute Proceedings, (September 1991), 84.
12. Maze,Rick.  "Job Scarcity Inhibiting Deeper Cuts," NAVY Times,
      February 17, 1992, p.4.
13. Moore, Royal N., LtGen., USMC.  "Marine Air:  There When Needed."
      Naval Institute Proceedings, (November 1991), 63-70.
14. Texeras, Maj., USMC.  "Desert Shield Tanker Support."  Marine
      Corps Lessons Learned, MCLLS #32862-99965 (00002) (13 August
      1990), 2.

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