Home / Robert Farley / Airlift!



My latest at the Diplomat isn’t so much about Mali as it is about heavy airlift, logistics, and multilateralism:

With increasingly dense littoral populations living in a disaster-prone region, the ability of ASEAN militaries to conduct airlift may become their critical operational capability. Of all Indo-Pac states, India has made the most serious investment with an order of 10 C-17s.

Air diplomacy” may have a role to play. The pre-eminence of the United States in air transport continues to give it an advantage in crisis situations, as the U.S. military can deliver people and material faster and in greater quantities than any regional player. A Y-20 equipped PLAAF may someday be able to cut into this advantage. In the medium term, we could perhaps imagine an Asian alternative to the Heavy Airlift Wing, a organization serving the airlift needs of a consortium of European states.  The HAW owns 3 C-17 Globemasters (operating with Hungarian markings), giving member states a limited heavy airlift capacity.  Of course, any kind of multilateral military organization requires substantial agreement across parties, a requirement that does not necessarily hold even in ASEAN, much less across the panoply of East Asia states. Nevertheless, some sort of shared airlift capacity might make sense in context of the operations-other-than-war that so often occupy Asian military organizations.

Two supporting thoughts:

  • The Heavy Airlift Wing is a genuinely interesting development, representing a multilateral effort to resolve a key logistics problem. Of course, the members are all friendly with one another and have dense security relationships, so it’s an easy case for security cooperation. Nevertheless, it might be interesting to try to transplant the concept elsewhere.
  • Michael O’Hanlon’s The Science of War is  surprisingly good, especially on logistics, analysis, and the relationship between research and war. I’m not generally impressed with his work (although the Kosovo book isn’t bad), but this is a very good intro to some complex security issues.
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  • Mali is not geographically that close to France. I have flown from Accra to London and back and the distance between the northern Mali and southern France is pretty substantial. Algeria is quite large.

  • liberal

    Michael O’Hanlon’s … I’m not generally impressed with his work…

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but IIRC (a) he supports ballistic missile defense, (b) he supported the invasion of Iraq. IMHO that makes him worse than useless.

    • swearyanthony

      At some point you have to start discounting everything said by a person that is a total fuckup. O’Hanlon is one of these people. If I ever find him on the the same side of an argument as myself, I double or triple check my own rationale.
      Has the man ever actually apologized for Iraq? Not “I’m sorry other people weren’t brilliant enough to enact my vision” sorry. Actual “I made a terrible call and many, many, many people are unnecessarily dead” sorry. Of course not. He’s another one of the think tank weasels.

  • i.boskone

    Speaking of Mali – how has France been able to ever do anything militarily in Africa without significant airlift capacity of their own? I’m pretty sure the news footage I’ve seen showed, along with C-17s belonging to Canada and the USA, an Antonov freighter in civilian colors. All France seems to have are twin engined turbo-prop jobs that look smaller than C-130s. Am I mistaken?

    • para38

      The C-17s shown in footage belong to the British, Canadians and US. The An-125 belongs to a Ukrainian company, which also provides more of the same capacity to the European Strategic Airlift capability called SALIS, that operates out of Germany (by the way, for the Europeans a vastly more relevant capability in terms of cargo capacity and operational history than the token Heavy Airlift Wing sponsored for the most part by the US).

      France is operating C-160 Transall aircraft, which are tactical intra-theater transports very suitable to operate from unprepared airfields. Since France is having substantial military capacity on the spot in African countries, not all their vehicles come all the way from France and can be deployed with these transports, for instance all their armored 4×4, which already outgun most of the stuff the rebels have. The larger VBCI APC, CAESAR SPH and most of the logistical stuff require larger transports, hence the British and Ukrainian aircraft.

    • Major Kong

      They have some C-130s and some KC-135s that can also haul cargo.

      But you are correct, they don’t have any real “strategic airlift”.

      To put the relative force size in perspective – we had more KC-135s in the Ohio Air National Guard (18) than the entire Armée de l’Air (14).

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