Air Transportation: December 6, 2002


The C-17 is a magnificent transport aircraft but there are not nearly enough of them in service, on order, or in the planning stage. The air force has to pay for the C-17s, and they don't want to cut orders for new F-22 and F-35 combat aircraft in order to buy more C-17s. Afghanistan showed that lack of air transport caught everyone short because the Army's deployment systems are designed for wars that will last a year or more, and aren't really geared toward the kind of conflict seen in Afghanistan, where fighting took only a few months once the forces managed to arrive. Moreover, unlike in the past, the conventional forces were doing most of the work and the special forces did a few recon and commando raids around the periphery of major battles. In Afghanistan, most of the war was special forces units spotting targets for GPS-guided bombs, and the conventional forces were originally assigned to establish and secure bases from which the special forces could operate. It was not until the major battles around cave complexes that traditional ground combat was employed and even then it was missing some of the normal elements (e.g., artillery). Whatever the army does in situations like this, air transport limitations is the major consideration. --Stephen V Cole


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