The Officer May/June 2011 : Page-32

Decade of conflict keeps Reserve Component in for the long haul. By Erika N. Cotton Airlift is by design a necessary and vital part of the military’s Total Force strategy. For more than half a century, airlift capability has moved cargo, people, and resources in and out of theater to meet the needs of Soldiers and civilians around the world. Over the past 10 years, as the military has shifted away from operations in Iraq to operations in Afghanistan, airlift pilots and crews have seen some significant changes in the way they approach and handle new requirements, fiscal pressure, terrain differences, security, and outdated technology. Since Sept. 11, 2001, the need for the Reserve Component to participate, in one form or another, has steadily increased across the entire spectrum of aviation and nonaviation forces. “We’re coming on 10 years into this, and several mobilizations have occurred throughout this period. I think it’d be fair to say that the requirements are continuing,” said Col Bruce Bowers, deputy director, Air Force Reserve Command A3, Directorate of Air, Space, and Information Operations. Maintaining a strategic reserve and leveraging resources to provide efficient operational capability, he said, is their No. 1 priority right now. As far as future requirements go, however, Col Bowers said he could not begin to guess. “Nobody has a crystal ball that can see into the future. I could not offer what role the [Air Force Reserve Command] will play … as we go through sourcing solutions for all of the partner management commands, as well as all of our [Department of Defense] partners,” he said. Though future requirements are somewhat uncertain, 32 the the strategy for ongoing airlift requirements and those of the recent past are mostly unchanged, according to COL Lawrence Gray, chief of current operations, Army Materiel Command Operations Directorates. In general, with regard to moving cargo and passengers and deploying aircraft to meet theater requirements, things have remained the same. “What we have seen is kind of a shift in our deployment forces slightly to be able to position better in meeting the theater’s airlift requirements,” COL Gray said. “The challenge is essentially to try to move the same amount of stuff over a greater distance, because Afghanistan is a little bit farther away from the United States than the Iraq theater was. Our challenge is in the extra distance and time to try to meet the same amount of, if not greater, airlift requirements.” To meet these challenges, COL Gray said, they have worked with U.S. Transportation Command to maximize the force’s ability to use multimodal operations. The force forward deploys some of the heaviest equipment to airfields in the Central Command area of responsibility that are also located in the same area as a seaport. This way, the equipment can be shipped instead of flown, saving money and resources. Once it arrives at the next port, the equipment is then transferred to aircraft to be flown into the appropriate theater’s area of responsibility. In many instances, this multimodal strategy cuts flying distance down by nearly a quarter from origination to destination, COL Gray said. Use of the multimodal strategy O fficer / M ay –J une 2011

Airlift Evolution

Erika N.Cotton

Decade of conflict keeps Reserve Component in for the long haul.<br /> <br /> Airlift is by design a necessary and vital part of the military’s Total Force strategy. For more than half a century, airlift capability has moved cargo, people, and resources in and out of theater to meet the needs of Soldiers and civilians around the world.<br /> <br /> Over the past 10 years, as the military has shifted away from operations in Iraq to operations in Afghanistan, airlift pilots and crews have seen some significant changes in the way they approach and handle new requirements, fiscal pressure, terrain differences, security, and outdated technology.<br /> <br /> Since Sept. 11, 2001, the need for the Reserve Component to participate, in one form or another, has steadily increased across the entire spectrum of aviation and nonaviation forces.<br /> <br /> “We’re coming on 10 years into this, and several mobilizations have occurred throughout this period. I think it’d be fair to say that the requirements are continuing,” said Col Bruce Bowers, deputy director, Air Force Reserve Command A3, Directorate of Air, Space, and Information Operations.<br /> <br /> Maintaining a strategic reserve and leveraging resources to provide efficient operational capability, he said, is their No. 1 priority right now. As far as future requirements go, however, Col Bowers said he could not begin to guess.<br /> <br /> “Nobody has a crystal ball that can see into the future. I could not offer what role the [Air Force Reserve Command] will play … as we go through sourcing solutions for all of the partner management commands, as well as all of our [Department of Defense] partners,” he said.<br /> <br /> Though future requirements are somewhat uncertain, the strategy for ongoing airlift requirements and those of the recent past are mostly unchanged, according to COL Lawrence Gray, chief of current operations, Army Materiel Command Operations Directorates.<br /> <br /> In general, with regard to moving cargo and passengers and deploying aircraft to meet theater requirements, things have remained the same.<br /> <br /> “What we have seen is kind of a shift in our deployment forces slightly to be able to position better in meeting the theater’s airlift requirements,” COL Gray said. “The challenge is essentially to try to move the same amount of stuff over a greater distance, because Afghanistan is a little bit farther away from the United States than the Iraq theater was. Our challenge is in the extra distance and time to try to meet the same amount of, if not greater, airlift requirements.” <br /> <br /> To meet these challenges, COL Gray said, they have worked with U.S. Transportation Command to maximize the force’s ability to use multimodal operations.<br /> <br /> The force forward deploys some of the heaviest equipment to airfields in the Central Command area of responsibility that are also located in the same area as a seaport. This way, the equipment can be shipped instead of flown, saving money and resources. Once it arrives at the next port, the equipment is then transferred to aircraft to be flown into the appropriate theater’s area of responsibility.<br /> <br /> In many instances, this multimodal strategy cuts flying distance down by nearly a quarter from origination to destination, COL Gray said. Use of the multimodal strategy helps maximize limited airlift resources more efficiently, which is a necessary factor during times of intense fiscal pressure. The multimodal strategy also saves lives.<br /> <br /> Maj Jason Allen of the 97th Airlift Squadron, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., who works as a civilian pilot for Alaska Airlines, has firsthand experience with this type of operation, having deployed to missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 10 years.<br /> <br /> “Rather than using convoys to get some of the equipment into the places in Afghanistan, we were using airlift because of the IED [improvised explosive device] threat,” he said. “We were moving a sizable number of people from the roads so they were less exposed.” <br /> <br /> The command also expects to cut down flying time by establishing a polar flight plan. COL Gray said a polar flight would help significantly to cut down the distance between eastern seaboard aerial ports and the area of responsibility.<br /> <br /> “The Earth is essentially a ball and the equator is the thickest part of the ball. From the East Coast, we’re flying at about halfway up the ball. If we fly north, over the pole, and through Russian air space, that is actually a reduced distance in flight times. So we’re getting things there faster,” he said.<br /> <br /> Although these plans have not yet come to fruition, the command is excited about them, COL Gray said. They hope to be able to test them out in the not-too-distant future.<br /> <br /> Increased efficiency for operations comes from aircraft upgrades as well. Although the C-17 Globemaster III is the real workhorse of the fleet, the command is working to maximize use of the C-5 Galaxy aircraft.<br /> <br /> “It has a much more efficient engine. It’s got more power.It’s got more ability to fly longer, so we’re excited about opportunities to use the C-5,” COL Gray said.<br /> <br /> Improved communications, new panel displays, updated navigation, and safety equipment are just a few of the changes being made to more than half of the C-5 Galaxy aircraft through the Avionics Modernization Program. The upgraded aircraft is designated as the C-5M Super Galaxy.<br /> <br /> One of the challenges the force has faced with use of the C-5, however, is that more than 70 percent are owned by the Reserve Component. Due to fiscal pressure, access to the aircraft and the aircrews to fly those aircraft is more difficult.<br /> <br /> Congress will only approve so much training, so many crew members, and so much for aircraft operations and maintenance. As a result, COL Gray said, they have had to become more efficient in the way they pay for aircrews and maximize the military personnel appropriation allocated to buy those capabilities.<br /> <br /> “That’s a change for our reservists, because they’re trying to balance their military careers with their civilian careers,” COL Gray said. “Whereas we could afford to pay for more a few years ago, we just don’t have the personnel dollars available to pay for the people we had access to just a year ago.” <br /> <br /> He also said that they have had to return to a more traditional, strategic reservist role, and away from what has essentially been the equivalent of Active Component personnel.<br /> <br /> Another challenge in using the upgraded aircraft is the terrain. MAJ Benjamin Cotton, U.S. Army (Ret.), Air Defense Artillery, Army Acquisition Corps, who now serves as a defense contractor for the Joint Battle Command-Platform, said the C-5s are not often used because of the need for a longer runway.<br /> <br /> “They need more takeoff and landing space. Sometimes the terrain is just not there for you to do that,” he said. “So the force tends to want to use aircraft that can take off and land in an area that has shorter airfields, especially where there’s no port nearby to bring a boat in, the terrain is bad, or the roads are not there.” <br /> <br /> In these situations, aircraft—such as the CH–47 Chinook or the C-130 Hercules that can utilize small spaces—come heavily into play.<br /> <br /> “The C-130 is a lot smaller than other aircraft. It’s very durable; it’s smaller; but it cannot carry as much payload as some of the other ones,” MAJ Cotton said. “Although the C-5s ... are larger air planes and have larger capacities, both of those planes need a lot of runway to take off and land.” <br /> <br /> COL Gray agrees. “That’s a huge challenge for us. With the mountainous terrain [in Afghanistan], there’s just not a lot of great airfields for us to be able to operate into and out of to resupply the Marines and the Soldiers that are stationed there.It’s very inhospitable,” he said.<br /> <br /> Maj Allen recalled that technology limitations in Afghanistan, combined with the mountainous and rugged terrain, sometimes made air lands impossible, especially early on.<br /> <br /> Getting into and out of Afghanistan proved quite challenging for the pilots and their crews when operations first began. The instrument approach technology that already existed at most airfields throughout the world had not yet reached Afghanistan.<br /> <br /> “All of the instrument approaches that would’ve allowed us to go in when the weather was bad weren’t available or they weren’t operating,” he said. “So, the only way we were able to get into some of those areas, because of the terrain, was when the weather was clear enough for us to land without the clouds or low ceiling.” <br /> <br /> Today, standard instrument approaches are available and in place on the runways in Afghanistan, so airlift capability is usually not impacted by bad weather. However, because ground space around the bases remains limited, aircrews still rely more heavily on airdrop capability than air lands to meet the resupply needs of Soldiers in the field.<br /> <br /> In fact, the number of airdrops—measured by cargo weight—has doubled every year since 2005, COL Gray said.They handled 60 million pounds of airdrop last year alone.<br /> <br /> Maj Allen said that was definitely a change in direction from operations in Iraq. “I don’t think, as far as C-17s are concerned,that we were really dropping any equipment in Iraq. I never had to do that on a continual basis. In Afghanistan, we do it all the time, especially in the winter months when a lot of the roads are not passable because of the snow,” he said.<br /> <br /> Although the aircrews are trained to handle the increase in airdrops, they are still more complicated to conduct than land drops, COL Gray said.<br /> <br /> “You have to do a lot more route planning. You have to figure out what your computed area to release point is. You have to rig all the equipment with the webbing, the parachutes, rig the back of the aircraft to make it compatible for airdrop. And then you have the challenge to plan the mission to get to the location,” he said.<br /> <br /> And sometimes—although not often—the equipment fails.COL Gray says that the best, safest, and most popular way to deliver anything is by land.<br /> <br /> “That way you know exactly where it arrived and what condition it arrived in. With an airdrop, there are sometimes limitations with the equipment,” he said. “For example, with some of the loads, the parachutes don’t work exactly the right way. You may drop a container delivery system bundle with water and it hits the ground at too high of a velocity and all the water just splashes out and it’s useless.” <br /> <br /> But many times, the cargo is much more precious than a bundle of water; it’s a human life. Maj Allen said the shift from missions in Iraq to missions in Afghanistan has impacted air medical evacuations as well.<br /> <br /> “Rather than the medical team having to keep someone stable for a five-hour flight from Iraq to Germany, they’re having to keep somebody stable and watch over them from eight to eight-and-a-half hours,” he said. “From a medical perspective, that is a big difference.” <br /> <br /> Those are the airlift missions, he said, that the crews work to go above and beyond because “it’s no longer beans and bullets, it’s a real person.” <br /> <br /> Msgt Jake Chappelle, chief of media, 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, Lewis-McChord, said that approximately 80 percent of medical crew missions are flown by Reserve Component units every day, and they have a 98 percent casualty-survival rate.<br /> <br /> Overall, airlift operational capability and efficiency has increased over the past several years.<br /> <br /> “Last year, coupled with Haiti and the [Iraq war] surge, when you look at the number of hours that we flew, we carried 50 percent more cargo, had a 20 percent increase in the amount of fuel that was offloading our tankers, and passenger movements were about a 3 percent increase,” COL Gray said. “So you see, given about the same amount of resources that we’ve been able to expend over the last couple of years, we’re getting a lot better and more efficient at moving stuff.” <br /> <br /> With regard to security, processes and procedures remain relatively unchanged.<br /> <br /> “In the post–9/11 era, we’re pretty confident that our processes—looking at the threats out there, getting the information to the aircrews, training them to use their onboard defense systems, and using their [eyes] to visually acquire any type of threat to the aircraft—help mitigate the threats that are out there,” he said.<br /> <br /> The colonel said he could not characterize any specific patterns, upswing, or decrease in threats. Some weeks, he said, are better than others.<br /> <br /> Erika N. Cotton is a professional freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C., with extensive experience covering the Reserve Component.<br /> <br /> Editor’s Note: Ms. Cotton is the daughter of MAJ Benjamin Cotton USA (Ret.) Who is quoted in the story; however, ROA generated the assignment independent of knowledge of their relationship, and he was most qualified to comment on issues regarding airlift.

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