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Airlift!

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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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