Logistics: September 7, 1999

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TWO-WAR PLAN HAS FATAL FLAW IN AIRLIFT SHORTAGE The US military has long worked on the theory of being able to fight two wars at the same time. This is not because they WANT to fight two wars at once, but because if the US only has enough military force for a single war, then any time a war starts in one place, every other possible enemy would have a free hand to run rampant without US interference. If, for example, Kim Jong IL started a war that took up all of the US combat power, then Iran would be free to invade the Gulf Emirates, Iraq would be free to invade Kuwait, China would be free to invade Taiwan, and other problems could develop. So, the Two War Strategy is a valid response to the multiple existing threats. The problem is that the current US forces cannot conduct two wars at the same time. 

Many problems abound. For example, there are not enough B-2 bombers, Guard heavy enhanced brigades might not be able to mobilize in time, if one of the two wars is not in Korea there are just not enough troops. But the biggest problem is airlift. To fight two wars at once, the US needs a C-5 fleet with 75% availability (it is currently running at 61% due to budget cuts), 120 of the new C-17s (only 52 are in service), 19 roll-on/roll-off tank cargo ships (only 10 are in service but the Navy should have the rest by 2002), and a string of bases around the world able to support such deployments (none of which are currently up to readiness standards). 

Assuming no major increase in defense budgets, the Pentagon will not have these assets in place until 2006. The whole theory is based on a 1994 Clinton Administration study which declared that there would not be two enemies likely or able to start a war before 2010. This study is, critics charge, deeply flawed. A new study for example finds that there will be several potential enemies able to start a war by 2005, most of them with weapons of mass destruction on hand. Withdrawal of heavy Army units from Europe has increased the need to carry troops overseas by 20-40% (so even the 120 C-17s would not be enough). This could mean that the troops which initially arrive to "hold" the enemy attack might have to remain on the defensive for twice as long as the original plan. While highly classified, the plan to be ready for war by 2006 assumes that a second war will not start for 45 days after the first one, an assumption that is debatable. If the first war starts, other potential enemies might want to take advantage of this 45-day "window of opportunity". But then, even if they want to, they might not be able to launch a war that fast.

Several new factors must be accounted for in the war plan. The Army has recently converted 12 National Guard combat brigades into logistics units. This is because the Army is responsible to provide all supplies in a war theater to the Air Force, Marine, and Navy units based there, with the exception of the "black oil" that ships burn for fuel and Navy-specific ammunition. Transportation for these units was never included in the airlift plan, but the Army assumes that they will go by sea anyway. The four light divisions are not included in the plans (since there is, frankly, relatively little for light infantry to actually do in any of the likely conflicts), but the Army assumes that if these troops are needed (perhaps for rear-area security) they can be flown to war on chartered civilian airliners.

Another problem is that 285 C-141s are being replaced by 120 C-17s. While 120 C-17s have about the same load capacity as 285 C-141s (factoring in such things as fuel efficiency and readiness rates), the smaller number of airframes becomes a problem if they must support two or more theaters. Yet another factor is the steady increase in Army deployments to peacekeeping and other missions. Even if two wars are being fought, the peacekeeping units in Kosovo and Bosnia (plus Patriot missile batteries sent to various crisis areas) will still need a certain amount of airlift support, and could find themselves in serious difficulties if their airlift is suddenly all taken away and sealift replacements take weeks to come on line. The idea that the enemy might attack US military bases outside of the theater (say, the key refueling base in the Azores) with terrorist strikes or even chemical weapons carried on non-descript freighters) is regarded as "dirty pool" and the Pentagon's only real response to such a threat is to hope it doesn't happen.--Stephen V Cole

The British are expected to announce their decision on leasing four new outsized air lifters at any time. The British were embarrassed in Kosovo to not have enough air lifters to support the number of flight operations their tactical planes could have flown. The plan is to lease four large planes for seven years, by which time the new Future Transport Aircraft will be in service. The bidders are the US C-17, the French Airbus 300-600F commercial cargo plane, or two versions of the Ukrainian An-124 (the second using British engines and US electronics).--Stephen V Cole

 


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