In a fiscally constrained world, sixty-six is Military Airlift Command’s magic number.
That is the goal—66,000,000 ton-miles per day (MTM/D) of cargo airlifted to support US forces in combat—established in a Congressionally Mandated Mobility Study (CMMS) carried out by DOD in 1981. “We can attain that goal,” said Gen. Thomas M. Ryan, Jr., MAC Commander in Chief, shortly before his October 1 retirement. “With capability improvements in recent years and enhancements like the C-5B and future procurement of the C-17, we will attain it before the end of the century.”
In any conflict, the bulk of supplies for US forces will travel by ship, but important equipment needed to support them in the early days of the fighting can only be provided by air. As the conflict continues, troop replacements and certain materiel will continue to go into the battle area on aircraft. The CMMS produced the sixty-six MTM/D requirement after examining possible scenarios that included Soviet invasions of Iran or Saudi Arabia, a Warsaw Pact attack on NATO, and a combination of a conflict in Southwest Asia followed by a Warsaw Pact attack. The airlift requirement is a fiscally attainable goal.
By 1986, the study predicted, MAC would have a shortfall of twenty MTM/D; today, there is a shortfall of about thirty MTM/D. But this shortfall is down from 1984, when it was 33.6 MTM/D, and from 1983, when it was 37.3 MTM/D. It will continue to drop as C-5Bs and C-17s come into the inventory, General Ryan said.
The sixty-six MTM/D goal is for intertheater airlift, also called long-range or strategic airlift, between the US and overseas theater locations. In addition, MAC has the mission of providing intratheater airlift within a theater of operations. The requirements for this mission are not clear-cut. The Army, with its new AirLand Battle doctrine, will need more airlift than ever before to support its new lightweight infantry divisions in combat. More troops will move more often in a war, and more equipment will have to be airlifted to support them than before.
Right now, the Department of Defense is finishing the Worldwide Intratheater Mobility Study to determine airlift and other mobility needs in typical combat theaters. Results are not yet known. Previous studies indicate, however, that fully two-thirds of what is airlifted into a theater must be forwarded to specific battle areas by airlift. MAC can currently haul nearly 9,000 tons per day in C-130s. The new intratheater goal established by the study will probably be well above that, perhaps as high as 16,000 tons per day. A growing portion of this will be outsize cargo the C-130s can’t carry.
The MAC Delivery Trucks
MAC provides airlift with its own aircraft as well as those possessed by the Air National Guard, the Air Force Reserve, and the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF). CRAF was formed in 1951 when several civil air carriers agreed to provide specified numbers of aircraft to the government in times of crisis or national emergency. Participating airlines today include Northwest, Pan American, United, American, Trans World, Flying Tiger, Transamerica, World, American Air, Arrow, and Continental. In a full-scale national emergency, these airlines and others would provide about 300 long-range overwater commercial airliners for military airlift. Aircraft include the Boeing 747, McDonnell Douglas DC-b, Lockheed L-1011, Douglas DC-8, and Boeing 707. Over the years, the civilian airlines have provided CRAF aircraft during many crisis situations. The government has never had to invoke the agreement and call them up involuntarily. CRAF aircraft constitute up to forty percent of MAC’s intertheater airlift capability during times of crisis.
MAC’s own resources include seventy C-5As, 234 C-14111s, and 216 C-130s. More than 300 additional C-1 30s are available from the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve. C-5s are just starting to enter the reserve forces inventory. Varying numbers of SAC KC-10s are available to transport cargo in the MAC airlift system.
The queen of the intertheater force is the C-S Galaxy. Designed to lift more than 130 tons of cargo, it is the only US aircraft than can carry outsize cargo—including the Army’s main battle tank, the Ml Abrams, and larger equipment. Still the world’s largest operational aircraft (the new Soviet An-124 is not yet in the active force), the C-5’s “drive-through” cargo hold and truckbed-height floor permit rapid loading and unloading of rolling stock and up to thirty-six cargo pallets. It has an in-flight refueling capability.
Workhorse of the force is the C-141 StarLifter. With in-flight refueling to give it a worldwide range, it can also carry thirty-five tons of oversize (but not outsize) cargo more than 2,900 miles without refueling. It can accommodate 200 fully equipped troops or thirteen cargo pallets, or it can air-drop thirty-five tons of cargo or 155 troops. In an aeromedical role, the C-141 can fly 103 patients on stretchers with an appropriate number of medical attendants from overseas to US hospitals.
The C-130, after more than thirty years in the inventory, is still the mainstay of the intratheater airlift force. With its truckbed-height floor, it can be loaded and unloaded rapidly and can carry up to six cargo pallets from feeder fields to forward bases in combat zones. The C-130 can air-drop sixty-four fully equipped troops or up to seventeen tons of supplies. It can also deliver cargo on the surface, without landing, using the Low-Altitude Parachute Extraction System (LAPES). Seventy-four litter patients can be carried on medevac missions.
MAC also has MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft for the Special Operations Forces (SOF). With special navigation and other equipment, Combat Talon aircraft put SOF teams into unmarked drop zones in enemy territory at night and in adverse weather. AC-130 gunships, with a variety of machine guns, cannon, and other combat equipment, provide close air support, armed reconnaissance, and interdiction. Gunships were the principal fire support for Army troops on the ground during the Grenada rescue operation in the Caribbean.
MAC provides emergency and scheduled aeromedical airlift with the C-9 Nightingale. The CT-39, leased C-2 Is (Learjets), and C-12s are used to provide expeditious airlift of aircraft parts and support people in wartime situations. While doing this, these smaller aircraft offer low-cost seasoning of recent pilot school graduates. They are sometimes used to provide executive transportation for high-ranking government officials from the services, DOD, and Congress. And at Andrews AFB, outside Washington, D. C., the 89th Military Airlift Wing provides air transportation for the White House and other executive agencies aboard several types of aircraft, including the President’s aircraft, Air Force One.
In the European theater of operations, the command operates a fleet of C-23 Sherpas, manufactured by Short Brothers, Ltd., of Belfast, Northern Ireland, for its European Distribution System. These small, twin-engine cargo aircraft give greater combat readiness and sustainability to units of United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) by providing fast, usually overnight, delivery of spare parts and engines. The eighteenth and final aircraft of the fleet will be delivered before the end of this year.
Not primarily for airlift but nevertheless a unique MAC resource is the HH-53 Pave Low helicopter. With special navigation equipment and terrain-avoidance radar, it can land troops in hostile territory and reinforce and resupply SOF units. Operating in total darkness, at low altitude, and with no outside references, it can extract troops with minimum risk of detection.
Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service teams combine helicopters, HC- 130s, and attack aircraft for rescue efforts in hostile areas. The HC-130 provides airborne command and control and can refuel the helicopters. Teams like these also operate in peacetime rescue missions, but without attack aircraft support. MAC forces have participated in the rescue of more than 21,500 people worldwide since the establishment of the Air Rescue Service in 1946.
Regardless of the wide variety of MAC aircraft and the diversity of their missions, General Ryan says, “Our primary missions are deployment, employment, and resupply. Everything we are doing now enhances our ability to carry out these missions.”
At center stage in this enhancement process is the program for strengthening C-5A wings. The center, inner, and outer wing boxes—the lengthwise sections between the leading and trailing edges—are being replaced, providing an additional 30,000 flying hours for each aircraft at a cost of $19.6 million per aircraft. Since the new C-5Bs coming on board will also have the new wing, MAC will eventually have a total of 127 C-5s with a 30,000-flying-hour life expectancy. In the intratheater fleet, the outer wing boxes of C-130s are being replaced to increase each aircraft’s flying life from 18,000 hours to as much as 40,000 hours. The cost per aircraft is $1.05 million.
CRAF aircraft are being enhanced. In 1982, MAC offered to pay for the modification of civilian aircraft so that they could continue to carry passengers commercially but would be sturdy enough to carry heavy military cargo. The floor would be strengthened, and a new cargo door would be installed in each aircraft. Pan American World Airways responded with a proposal to modify nineteen 747s. The first of these was completed last summer, and twelve more aircraft have been put under contract. MAC has now made a new proposal to continue the program and pay half the modification cost per aircraft. Participating airlines will also be offered MAC cargo contracts. The new program will cost the command less than $10 million per aircraft, while the average unit cost under the old contract was $26.7 million.
A significant enhancement to the airlift force will be the procurement of sixty KC-10s jointly for MAC and SAC. The KC- 10 is extremely versatile and can serve as an in-flight refueler and a cargo plane at the same time. For example, during the recent annual deployment to Cairo, Egypt, for Exercise Bright Star, one KC-10 escorted eight F-111s from Pease AFB, N. H., refueling them on the way. As passengers, the big tanker carried spare aircrews for the F- Ills as well as their ground crews. And in the cargo hold was all the ground-support equipment for the aircraft. Within a few hours of landing at Cairo, the F-111s were flying their first sorties with the spare crew members, who had rested en route.
KC-10s will continue to be flown by SAC crews, but when used overseas in the airlift role, they come under the operational control of MAC. In a full-scale national emergency, KC-10s would be used in a dual role. Initially, they would be employed as tankers, carrying cargo and support people for the fighter units they are deploying.
But in lesser contingencies, depending on circumstances, some would be allotted to MAC. KC-10s in the cargo role have the same drawback as the civilian DC- 10—the cargo floor is not uniformly capable of taking the weight of some military cargo, and it is well above truckbed level, requiring special cargo-handling equipment.
Hauling Cargo Into the Next Century
Eagerly anticipated by MAC is the C-5B. It has the changes made in modernizing the C-SA, as well as some additional ones. The General Electric TF39 engines, rated at 41,000 pounds of thrust, have been improved and made more responsive. The troop compartment includes flame-retardant seats that are thirty percent lighter than the old ones. The saving in weight, according to a Lockheed spokesman, is expected to cut fuel consumption costs by $13 million over the life of the C-5B fleet. New carbon brake assemblies will have double the life of the A model’s beryllium brakes. Total fleet savings on brake replacement and maintenance costs over the life of the fleet are estimated at $20 million.
The first C-5B rolled out of the Lockheed plant in Marietta, Ga., on July 12. Speaking at the ceremony, Secretary of the Air Force Verne Orr noted, “The C-5B will add 7,500,000 ton-miles per day of outsize airlift capability toward our goal of 66,000,000 ton-miles per day.” This first production aircraft started flight testing at Dobbins AFB, Ga., in September and will be delivered to the Air Force in December. The Air Force has contract options to buy fifty C-5Bs at a cost of $7.187 billion. Delivery of the final C-5B is expected to occur in mid-1989.
At that point, with all programs involving aircraft now in the inventory virtually complete, the programmed intertheater airlift capability will be 48.5 MTM/D, still 17.5 MTMID short of the sixty-six MTM/D goal, according to the Air Force’s Airlift Master Plan. The Airlift Master Plan was issued in September 1983 and remains the valid “roadmap” for the airlift program. (For details on the Airlift Master Plan, see AIR FORCE Magazine, May ’84 issue, p. 58.) Furthermore, that capability will decline somewhat as older C-l4ls reach the end of their projected service lives in the late 1990s.
Originally designed to achieve 30,000 flying hours, each StarLifter was subjected to a durability and tolerance assessment when the entire fleet was converted to the C-141B stretched configuration. That assessment, provided that a life-extension program was implemented, put the economic service life of each aircraft at 45,000 hours. MAC plans to retire fifty-four C-141s beginning in 1996 and to reduce the use rate on the remaining airframes. This will extend the service life of the fleet to the year 2016. However, without a replacement aircraft, the airlift capability, supported by C-5A/Bs, KC-10s, and CRAF aircraft, would fall to about thirty-four MTM/D.
Fortunately, the answer to the problem, the C-17, is already in full-scale development (although no money has yet been requested from Congress for production). This new aircraft will have about the same wingspan as the C- 141, but it can carry more and bigger Army equipment because its cargo compartment is eighteen feet wide (the C-5’s cargo compartment is nineteen feet wide). It will be able to operate from short fields in the battle zone, where only the C- 130 can operate now. “It carries between three and a half and four times what a C-130 carries,” General Ryan pointed out. “In terms of size, it can carry anything the Army would want in the battle area—bridges, tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, artillery like the self-propelled 155-mm, really big stuff the C-5 can carry but the C-130 cannot.” So, in the C-17, the country is getting an intertheater, long-range aircraft (more than 3,500 miles without refueling, and it can be refueled in flight) with an intratheater capability.
The capability to operate from small fields not only enhances battlefield performance, it also dramatically improves opportunities for airlift deliveries anywhere. For example, the C-5 is expected to operate out of strips no smaller than 5,000 by 150 feet. Only fifty-six of these runways are available in Central Europe. The C-17, able to operate from strips as small as 3,000 by ninety feet, will have 436 available runways. An additional limiting factor is taxiways—for many airfields a C-5 or C- 141 can land on, taxiways are so narrow or congested that the aircraft must be unloaded, loaded, and serviced on the runways, in effect closing the airfield. The C-17, with a narrower landing gear track, a much smaller turning radius, and the capability to taxi backward on unpaved surfaces, will be able to use small taxiways and ramps.
The C- 17 has built-in survivability. Besides redundant systems, its maximum ingress and egress speed for the battlefield is high-410 knots at low altitude. It is almost tailor-made to support the Army on its new AirLand battlefield, where troops will often operate in isolated pockets as much as 150 kilometers behind the enemy’s lines, surrounded by hostile fire. In this situation, the C-17 can approach the field at 10,000 feet and, using in-flight reverse thrust, descend at 410 knots and land in less than two minutes out of an extremely steep descent. After offloading, it can take off—with some cargo and enough fuel to fly 500 miles—and climb to 10,000 feet at 410 knots in only 160 seconds. The C-17 will be powered by four Pratt & Whitney PW2037 turbofan engines, which have already been proven in worldwide airline service. It will have a three-man crew—two pilots and a loadmaster—compared to the five-man crew in the C-130.
MAC plans to acquire 210 C-17s. The first one will enter the Air Force in 1990. An Initial Operating Capability—twelve aircraft on board—will be reached in the fourth quarter of FY ’92. With the addition of the C-17, the sixty-six MTMID goal will be reached in 1998 and will be maintained thereafter, even though C-141s retire. The C-17, with its small-field capability, can also contribute to alleviating the intratheater cargo-carrying shortfall. Its predicted contribution, added to the C-130 force, will bring intratheater airlift to about 15,500 tons a day, just under the 16,000 tons a day requirement expected by the Worldwide Intratheater Mobility Study.
The Guard, The Reserve—And the Airlines
The C-5B and the KC-10 are new systems that add to the force. They are not replacements. This means more people must be added to the total force to operate and maintain them. The same is true for other new systems like the Ground-Launched Cruise Missile. Recognizing
this, the Air Force asked Congress for 22,000 more active-duty Air Force people in 1984 than were already in service in order to keep pace with new manpower requirements. Congress increased the active-duty force by only 2,000 people. Reading the handwriting on the wall, MAC planners realized ways must be found to add the new equipment to the force without significantly increasing the active-duty force size. One way to do this is to transfer some in-being systems to the reserve forces.
So, aircraft are being transferred to the Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve. The first of forty-four C-5As to be transferred to the reserve forces was assigned for training to the 433d Military Airlift Group, Kelly AFB, Tex., in December 1984. The unit will have three before the end of this year. Other C-5s are being transferred to Guard and Reserve outfits this year at Stewart IAP, N. Y., and Westover AFB, Mass. There will be three C-5 reserve forces groups in all. These transfers not only benefit the Air Force but have a salutary economic effect on the community as well. At Stewart, for example, a $125 million construction program was begun, including increased hangar space, new warehouses, improved taxiways and ramps, as well as a new air traffic control facility. The size of the Guard organization jumped from 800 to 2,000 people.
C-141s are also being transferred to the reserve forces. Sixteen planes will leave the active force in 1986—eight will go to the Guard at Jackson, Miss., and eight to the Reserve at Andrews AFB, Md. A total of eighty C-141s will be transferred by 1995. MAC is cautious about moving aircraft, especially C-141s, to the reserve fleet too fast, before the reserve forces have had time to recruit and man their organizations properly. Experience shows that, in a nonmobilized contingency, about twenty percent of Reserve Associate Unit crews are available to fly full time. This is not a big problem because the Reserve Associates are collocated with active-duty units flying the same aircraft, and additional crews as needed are provided by the active-duty wing. But in a reserve unit not collocated with an active-duty unit, there would be no backup active-duty crews. Still, the demand for C-l4ls in a contingency would be very high. So MAC is moving carefully, making sure that receiving units are fully manned when they receive their C-141s.
MAC is also facing aircrew retention challenges, General Ryan said. All commands lose pilots to the airlines, but the demand for MAC pilots is very high because their experience in large, multiengine aircraft suits them well for airline flying. Right now, with the economy in good shape, demand is at a peak.
MAC tracks retention by projecting what percentage of officers entering a given year group would complete a designated period of service if current retention patterns remained constant throughout that period. For pilots, the critical period is from six to eleven years of commissioned service. This is the period during which MAC pilots enter their most productive career phase in terms of flying experience. In FY ’85, approximately half of the MAC pilots entering their sixth year of service are projected to have left active duty by the end of eleven years. This is close to MAC’s average over the past nine years. Getting replacements for people who leave is not a problem. The problem is the cost of providing the new aircrews with the required experience to make them productive in their weapon systems.
Lt. Col. Allen A. Pichon, in the office of the Special Assistant to CINCMAC for Mission Effectiveness, explains: “A captain who has completed aircraft commander upgrade in the C-5 has cost the taxpayers $12 million. But if he leaves the service, the experience and knowledge he has are lost, and the taxpayers have to spend another $12 million training a replacement.” For the same person in a C-141, the cost is $4 million, and in a C-130, $2 million. MAC is doing something about retention, Col. Donald Post, DCS/Personnel, says. “We are trying to understand the young officers’ concerns better. They don’t leave simply because an airline offered a job. They have problems first, and then they look for an airline job. We’re doing something about it.”
Keeping the Troops Happy
Family Support Centers (FSCs) have been set up to help Air Force families cope with situations encountered in the service. “We recognize that most career decisions an Air Force member makes are family decisions,” says Colonel Post. “In fact, we know from recent Air Force surveys that spouses play an integral part in approximately seventy percent of all retention decisions. FSCs show these families the Air Force is serious about meeting family needs; consequently, they are more likely to stay with us.”
The centers provide services like short-term counseling for depression, maintaining spouse job data banks, helping spouses write résumés for job hunting, and training and language skills for foreign-born spouses of American airmen at overseas bases. There are four Family Support Centers in MAC and thirty-four throughout the Air Force. During FY ’86, MAC will open FSCs at Lajes Field in the Azores and at Altus AFB, Okla. Bases with the centers have retention rates two to three percentage points higher than other bases, and formal IG complaints are significantly down, Colonel Post points out.
Permanent change of station moves are particularly difficult for many modern families, he says. In a majority of these families, both spouses are employed. When a two-income family moves, the relocation can cost more than $5,000, says Colonel Pichon. The loss results because the nonmember spouse is out of work for a period of time looking for a job, and then, as a new employee, must work for a time at a lower wage. Most young Air Force families need a larger weight allowance for PCS moves. This is logical, Colonel Post says, because the Air Force mirrors the general population of the country—members are better off financially than previous generations, and they have more material possessions.
Encouraging news is that bills have been introduced in Congress to increase the weight allowance for PCS moves, and some congressmen have expressed support for providing compensation for loss of spousal employment.
Congressionally mandated studies calling for changes in the present retirement system are perceived by many Air Force people as attacks on the basic entitlement programs, which originally helped them decide in favor of a military career, says Capt. Randy Martinez, MAC’s retention specialist. Young people may come into the Air Force primarily for patriotic or altruistic reasons, he says, but they are nevertheless very aware of the retirement program and other benefits. They view them as promises from the government. They interpret attempts to change them as a lessening of appreciation for what they are doing and the sacrifices they are expected to make.
“The retirement system is a big reason I’m staying in the Air Force,” one young officer told Captain Martinez. “But what guarantee do I have that Congress won’t change it? They want a commitment from us, yet we can’t seem to get one from them.”
Helping to Tailor Careers
Another perception many young people have, Colonel Post says, is that the assignment system is impersonal, selecting people for jobs by computer. In MAC, this perception is being countered by delegating much assignment responsibility and authority to squadron commanders. It is a six-month test program and, if successful, may be adopted Air Force-wide. In the program, Hq. AFMPC provides MAC with a seven-month projection of all known Air Force requirements. The MAC personnel people tabulate all forecast MAC vacancies and “fair-share” the total requirements to the wings. The wings, in turn, “fair-share” to the squadrons, and at this point the squadron commander becomes responsible for making the person-job match. MAC arms each squadron commander with computer products that identify his people’s overseas and Stateside assignment vulnerability. He is counseled regarding any unique assignment situations.
The squadron commander best knows his people’s immediate assignment potential and the unit’s operational requirements. He can assert a decisive influence that could preclude an individual’s assignment to a job solely because of his standing on an eligibility list. “Aside from the mechanics of the program’s information flow, which we are constantly striving to streamline, feedback has been 100 percent positive,” Colonel Post says. Air Force members are happy with the new system, he adds, because they can talk to someone they know—the squadron commander—about their assignments and career opportunities, and the commander can influence the system.
General Ryan was pleased with the quality of the people in his command and with the efforts to make Air Force life even better than it is today. Overall, he said, most people in MAC are not dissatisfied with the system. “They are producing as hard as they can,” he said. “These people are solid gold. They have to be, to do what they do as well as they do it. Their efforts become more important as each day we move toward our goal of sixty-six MTM/D.”
But the retiring CINCMAC had one final word of caution. “I don’t believe we can sustain our excellent retention rates in the face of an improving economy and increased hiring by civilian industry unless we can continue support for pay comparability and a decent retirement program. Replacing the highly-trained troops who would be the first to leave is a painful experience.”
Summing up, General Ryan said, “While we are currently short of the airlift capability we need to satisfy all our requirements, nevertheless, we have made substantial progress along an ever-steepening upward curve and are better off than we were in 1980. Higher readiness and sustainability have greatly improved MAC’s overall war-fighting capability, enabling us to deliver fighting forces quicker and more efficiently than ever before.”