Operation Desert Storm:

An Assessment of Aerial Refueling Operational Efficiency

NSIAD-94-68: Published: Nov 15, 1993. Publicly Released: Nov 15, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the future of the services' air refueling tanker force, focusing on additional actions that could further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of aerial refueling operations.

GAO found that: (1) during Operation Desert Storm, a large coalition tanker fleet transferred over 700 million pounds of fuel to about 2,000 aircraft over 43 days of combat; (2) although the results of the refueling operations were positive, nearly 40 percent of the fuel carried by Air Force tankers went unused; (3) refueling inefficiency prevented the support of additional combat missions; (4) the Desert Storm experience suggests that more tankers were supporting operations than needed; (5) in light of the information obtained from Operation Desert Storm and changes in overall global defense requirements, the Department of Defense (DOD) needs to review and adjust the size and capability of its air tanker fleet to support conventional rather than strategic contingencies; (6) additional actions to improve refueling operations include the need for better planning tools and communication equipment, research and analysis of air refueling support operations, integration of tankers, planning for conventional contingencies, sharing of tanker training hours among receiver communities, and greater standardization of refueling systems; and (7) the Air Force does not collect and analyze data on improving the efficiency of aerial refueling operations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD identified a number of actions, under way or planned, to further improve overall aerial refueling efficiency. This includes an aerial refueling study that, among other objectives, considered factors affecting the efficiency of future aerial refueling operations.

    Recommendation: To improve the efficiency of air refueling operations in future contingencies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to ensure a more equitable sharing of peacetime air refueling training hours both among the services and between strategic and tactical assets.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD identified a number of actions, under way or planned, to further improve overall aerial refueling efficiency. This included an aerial refueling study that, among other objectives, considered factors affecting the efficiency of future aerial refueling operations.

    Recommendation: To improve the efficiency of air refueling operations in future contingencies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to ensure implementation of an improved and more realistic simulation of expected wartime conditions in peacetime air refueling training and exercises as well as increased emphasis on preparing for refueling operations in conventional as opposed to nuclear scenarios.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As a result of the report, DOD funded an Airborne Tanker Study to address areas of concern identified in GAO's report.

    Recommendation: To improve the efficiency of air refueling operations in future contingencies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to ensure assignment of a high priority to studies, research, and exercises intended to develop effective methods for tankers to support future combat operations. Such efforts should actively involve the tactical community.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD did not concur with the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the efficiency of air refueling operations in future contingencies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to ensure development of needed improvements to the automated tanker planning module currently being fielded, including examination of the feasibility of substituting the existing Air Mobility Command system for the one under development by the Air Combat Command.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Airborne Tanker Study initiated as a result of the report considered, to a limited extent, the implications of increased efficiency due to improvements in equipment, communication, doctrine, and training on aerial refueling requirements. Among other improvements, this study led to a decision to modify KC-135 aircraft to support refueling of two Navy aircraft at one time. This modification, which is now being implemented, will improve the Air Force's ability to support interoperability with the Navy.

    Recommendation: To improve the efficiency of air refueling operations in future contingencies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to ensure explicit examination in future DOD tanker requirements studies of the implications of increased efficiency due to improvements in equipment, communication, doctrine, and training.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD identified a number of actions, under way or planned, to further improve overall aerial refueling efficiency. This includes an aerial refueling study that, among other objectives, considered factors affecting the efficiency of future aerial refueling operations.

    Recommendation: To improve the efficiency of air refueling operations in future contingencies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Air Force to ensure the collection and analysis of detailed data on tanker efficiency--used, unused, and jettisoned fuel--during exercises as well as future conflicts.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to the DOD response, future joint component air commanders will ensure that DOD procedures for establishing valid receiver fuel requirements are followed.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should direct the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to issue guidance requiring the establishment of a mechanism within future joint component air commands to ensure the validity of fuel requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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