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Airlift Cargo Aircraft

Airlift operates across the range of military operations performing six broad tasks: deployment, employment, redeployment, sustainment, aeromedical evacuation (AE), and military operations other than war, such as foreign humanitarian assistance and noncombatant evacuation operations. Airlift is a cornerstone of global force projection. It provides the means to rapidly deploy and redeploy forces, on short notice, to any location worldwide. Airlift's characteristics - speed, flexibility, range, and responsiveness - complement other US mobility assets. The United States operates three distinct airlift forces; intertheater or strategic, theater or intratheater, and organic airlift forces. Airlift delivery is accomplished by two basic modes, airland or aerial delivery. Airland is the most frequently used delivery method and encompasses all situations where personnel and cargo are onloaded and off-loaded while the aircraft is on the ground. Aerial delivery includes all methods of delivering personnel, equipment, and supplies from an airborne aircraft.

From its inception in 1947, the U.S. Air Force recognized the necessity and importance of airlift and has adapted structurally to achieve this mission. Composed of Air Force and Navy elements under the administrative supervision of the Air Force, the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) was established on June 1, 1948, to serve all branches of the armed forces. For the next decade, MATS consisted of the Continental, Atlantic, and Pacific Divisions. In 1958, the Pacific Division was dissolved, the Continental Division became the Western Transport Air Force, and the Atlantic Division became the Eastern Transport Air Force. In the 1960s, the Navy dropped out of MATS. In 1966, the Military Airlift Command (MAC) replaced MATS. The Western Transport Air Force became the Twenty-second Air Force and the Eastern Transport Air Force became the Twenty-first Air Force.

During the Cold War, the Air Force acquired larger and faster transport aircraft. By the late 1940s, the most common cargo airplanes were twin-engine C-47 Skytrains and four-engine C-54 Skymasters. Other transports of this period included twin-engine C-45 Expediters, C-82 Packets, C-46 Comman-dos, and four-engine C-74 Globemasters.

By the 1950s, several new transport aircraft had come into service, including the twin-engine C-119 Flying Boxcar-a descendant of the C-82-and the C-123 Provider. The Berlin Airlift had demonstrated the need for larger aircraft. In response, the Air Force acquired the huge, four-engine double-decked C-124 Globemaster II, which served as a strategic airlifter. In the same decade, many transports that had been used through the 1940s, including the C-45, C-46, C-54, C-72, and C-82, went out of service.

The venerable C-130 Hercules, a four-engine turboprop, emerged in the 1950s to become the Air Force's favorite tactical airlifter through the rest of the century. The Hercules could carry large quantities of cargo to relatively small airfields in remote locations and was rugged enough to handle rough landings in combat zones and disaster areas.

In the 1960s, several new cargo aircraft entered the Air Force inventory. The most significant was the C-141 Starlifter, a four-engine jet giant designed to replace the C-124 for strategic airlift missions. The C-135 Stratolifter, a variant of the Boeing 707 jet airliner and the KC-135 refueler, was less com-mon. Four-engine propeller aircraft, such as the C-118 Liftmaster and the C-121 Super Constellation, were also used. To move large cargo, the Air Force acquired the gigantic four-engine C-133 Cargomaster. The smaller, twin-engine C-7 Caribou supplemented the C-130 fleet for tactical airlift missions.

During the 1970s, many older cargo types, such as the C-47, C-118, C-119, and C-124, left the inventory of active Air Force units. The C-141s were modified with longer fuselages and air refueling equipment to extend their range and cargo capacity. Culminating the trend toward larger and faster strategic airlifters, the four-engine jet C-5 Galaxy appeared in the early 1980s to replace the C-133. At the time, the Galaxy was the largest aircraft in the world.

Despite the acquisition of larger transport planes during the Cold War, the Air Force never abandoned smaller aircraft, because many airstrips were too small to accommodate the large C-5s and C-141s. In many operations, larger aircraft unloaded relief supplies far from their final destination, shifting the cargo to smaller C-130s or to helicopters, which could move it to smaller airfields in the disaster area. For aeromedical evacuations, the Air Force acquired the twin-engine C-9 Nightingale.

As the Air Force entered the 1990s, it depended on three primary transport aircraft: the C-130 for tactical airlift and the C-141 and the C-5 for strategic airlift. In the 1990s, the C-17, which combined the large cross section of the C-5 with the short takeoff and landing capabilities of the C-130, entered the inventory. However, it was not produced in sufficient quantities to have much impact on humanitarian airlift operations. The first C-17 squadron became operational in January 1995.

By the early 1990s, the C-141 fleet was approaching the end of its useful life. To employ modern aircraft and to cut costs, AMC contracted with civilian airlines to perform routine missions and humanitarian airlifts. By the end of 1993, commercial aircraft assigned to the Civil Reserve Aircraft Fleet carried more passengers than military aircraft on AMC missions and up to 30 percent of the total cargo.

The Army has the largest requirement for common-user airlift. In particular, Army light infantry, airborne, and air assault forces rely heavily on airlift for deployment, sustainment, employment, and redeployment.The Navy depends on common-user airlift to sustain forward deployed operations with personnel, materiel, and mail from the continental United States (CONUS) to overseas bases and forward logistic sites. Marine forces require common-user airlift for deployment into a theater as part of a maritime prepositioning force as an air contingency force or as a Marine expeditionary force afloat and/or ashore. Sustained Marine air-ground task force operations require strategic and intratheater common-user airlift support. Depending on the operation, the Air Force tends to be the second largest customer of common-user airlift. For deployment, Air Force unit aircraft self-deploy; however, unit support personnel and equipment require airlift to the destination with, or before, the deploying unit aircraft. Special operations forces (SOF) have specially configured aircraft dedicated to special operations. SOF are augmented by common-user airlift support. As a branch of the Armed Forces and a non-DOD agency, the Coast Guard's organic airlift is normally sufficient to satisfy its airlift requirements. Other non-DOD agencies use DOD airlift for activities such as noncombatant evacuation operations, counterdrug operations, foreign humanitarian assistance, and domestic support operations. Non-DOD agencies may use common-user airlift providing the DOD mission is not impaired.

Airlift and air refueling forces provide speed and flexibility in deploying, employing, and sustaining America's military forces. Air mobility forces operate as part of a larger joint warfighting team, working with air, land, and naval forces to meet operational requirements for the unified commanders. Air mobility missions include the airlift and/or airdrop of troops, passengers, supplies, and equipment to locations around the globe, as well as air refueling for Air Force, other services, and allied aircraft. Air mobility forces also provide worldwide aeromedical evacuation of patients, participate in special operations, and support other national security requirements.



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Intertheater Airlift (PMAI)a









































Intratheater Airlift (PMAI)a











a PMAI = Primary mission aircraft inventory for active and reserve components. The numbers shown reflect only combat support and industrial funded PMAI aircraft and not development/test or training aircraft. Thus, the C-5 fleet consists of 126 total airframes, of which the PMAI is only 104.

b Includes 37 KC-10s allocated to an airlift code.

Land-based aircraft with a primary mission of moving small numbers of passengers passengers and small quantities of time-critical cargo are classified by the Department of Defense as Operational Support Airlift (OSA) aircraft. Most OSA aircraft are derivatives if commercial executive transports or the types of aircraft flown by commuter (or "feeder") airlines, although a few are as large as full-sized airliners. This is not a particularly sharp definition, however. For example, Navy Reserve C-9B aircraft (similar to the civilian DC-9 airliner) are classified as OSA, while Air National Guard T-43 arcfraft (similar to the civilian 737 airliner) are apparently not.

Two DOD-wide initiatives were recently completed to reorganize OSA operations. In an effort to minimize cross-service duplication, all CONUS OSA scheduling were consolidated under the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott AFB in the Joint Operational Support Airlift Center (JOSAC). And to align the force structure with the force size, a 30% reduction of OSA aircraft, mostly allocated evenly across the services, was directed. The Army retired all of it's U-21's, and the Air Force transfered the nearly all of its C-12's and C-26's to the Army. At the same time there have been a number of service-specific initiatives. Changes in Army OSA have been the most dramatic, with procurement of about 50 new C-23B and UC-35A aircraft and transfer of most Army OSA functions to the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve.

Small Scale Contingency airlift requirements might include [for 2-3 months] a total of 79 aircraft. Some 43 C-17s would be used [15 SOLL II, 12 Direct Delivery, 16 Intra-theater], while 40 C-130s would include 8 Theater Assigned and 8 Theater Deployable aircraft. Additionally, 18 Group B KC-135s and additional Special Operations aircraft would be involved.

The Mobility Requirements Study Bottom-Up Review Update and analysis of preposition cargo set the airlift requirement for a two major regional contingencies (MRC) scenario at 49.7 million ton miles per day (MTM/D). Fully mobilized, the Air Reserve Component and active duty contributes approximately 61 percent, while the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) provides 39 percent. Air Mobility Command's force structure is not only based on the requirements for a two-MRC scenario, but also on unique military requirements such as strategic brigade airdrop, lesser regional contingencies, and peace keeping/peace enforcement.

A new Mobility Requirements Study-2005 (MRS-05) concluded that the requirement to fight two nearly simultaneous major theater wars (MTW) imposed a minimum airlift requirement from 54.5 million ton miles per day (MTM/D), above the previously established 49.7 MTM/D level.

The current fleet of Material Handling Equipment (MHE) is short in numbers, lacks high-reach capability, is beyond its service life, and is expensive to maintain. MHE represents the weakest link in the air mobility process. Both the 40K loader and 25K loader cannot reach the cargo loading height of commercial wide-body aircraft. The aging fleet of 25K loaders, the backbone of the theater and smaller port capability, is becoming increasingly unreliable--it too requires replacement. The average age of the 40K loader is 23 years, using original registration numbers, while their life expectancy, when purchased, was 8 years. Sixty-nine percent of the 25K loader fleet is comprised of old, deteriorating Emerson and Con Diesel loaders that are reaching the end of their service life extension.

The cargo handling shortfall will be solved with the procurement of new MHE. An acquisition strategy started in the mid-80s for a new super loader (Tunner, 60K), one that could replace the 40K, yet reach wide-body aircraft. The Tunner (60K) loader and next generation small loader acquisitions provide the capability to support all commercial and military cargo aircraft. The modernization of the MHE fleet is AMC's second highest equipment priority after the acquisition of the C-17. With continued funding, the full buy of 318 Tunner loaders possesses the capability to solve the large cargo handler shortfall. Delivery of the Next Generation Small Loader (NGSL) must begin in FY00.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:28:55 ZULU