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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.

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.



FY 1993

FY 1994

FY 1995

FY 1996

FY 1997

FY 1998

FY 1999

FY 2000

FY 2001

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.

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.

AIRLIFT AIRCRAFT COMPARISON C-5 C-17 C-130H C-141B KC-135R* KC-10 747-200F
MAX TAKEOFF GROSS WEIGHT (LBS.) 2.5 g 769,000 523,000 155,700 323,000 322,500 593,000 836,000
OPR WT EMPTY (LBS.) 374,000 236,600 80,000 149,000 135,000 244,500 344,300
MAX ACL (LBS.) 2.5G 216,000 140,800 43,000 69,725 60,000 169,500 243,000
MAX PALLET LOAD 36 18 5.5 13 6 27 50
WARTIME PALOAD DELIVERED 2,900 NM (LBS.) 188,000 172,000 22,000 72,000 60,000 169,000 243,000
RANGE (NM)WITH MAX ACL 2.5G 2,250 2,840 1,000 2,160 5,000 3,100 3,600
FERRY RANGE (NM) 6,200 5,290 4,200 4,600 9,700** 9,800 7,300
AVG CRUISE SPEED/MACH 450/.77 450/.77 280/.46 425/.74 450/.77 481/.82 490/.84
TO GND RUN (FT) 7,800 7,600 4,700 5,900 6,000 9,300 8,800
LND ROLL (FT): MAX ACL & 500 NMS (SL/STD Day) 2,750 1,880 2,400 2,180 3,000 2,800 5,900
AMC MIN WARTIME RUNWAY LXW (FT) 5000x90 3000x90 3000x90 5000x90 7000x147 6000x90 7400x90
MIN 180 DEGREE TURN FT 143 90 47 137 130 142 142
AIRCRAFT LENGTH (FT) 248 175 133 168 136 182 232
Aircraft Wing Span (FT) 223 171 100 160 131 165 196
Aircraft Height (Ft) 65 55 39 40 38 58 63
Cargo Compartment Width 19 18 10 10 13 18 19
Height 14 12 9 9 7 8 10
Length 145 88 52 104 65 125 185
THRUST (LBS.) /Eng 41,000 40,700 4,300hp 21,000 22,200 52,500 52,500
AIRCRAFT NUMBERS 104 24 442 161 472 54 N/A

* Since the majority of KC-135s are dedicated to wartime air refueling, their impact to wartime airlift is limited.

**Range with 120,000 pounds (54,000 kilograms) for fuel transfer

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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Maintained by Robert Sherman
Originally created by John Pike
Updated Friday, November 19, 1999 9:14:12 AM