Military Airlift:

DOD Should Take Steps to Strengthen Management of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet Program

GAO-09-625: Published: Sep 30, 2009. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2009.

Additional Materials:


Cary B. Russell
(202) 512-8365


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

To move passengers and cargo, the Department of Defense (DOD) must supplement its military aircraft with cargo and passenger aircraft from commercial carriers participating in the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program. Carriers participating in CRAF commit their aircraft to DOD to support a range of military operations. In the Fiscal Year 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress required DOD to sponsor an assessment of CRAF and required GAO to review that assessment. GAO briefed congressional staff on its observations. As discussed with the staff, GAO further analyzed some of the issues identified in its review. This report assesses (1) the extent to which DOD has assessed potential risks to the CRAF program, and (2) the extent to which DOD's management of CRAF supports program objectives. For this engagement, GAO reviewed DOD-sponsored CRAF study reports and interviewed study leadership. GAO also interviewed over 20 of 35 CRAF participating carriers that responded to a request for a meeting, DOD officials, and industry officials.

DOD needs to establish the level of risk associated with declining charter passenger capabilities and DOD's increased need to move very large cargo. Although DOD depends on CRAF charter passenger aircraft to move more than 90 percent of its peacetime needs, there has been nearly a 55 percent decline in this CRAF capacity since 2003. In addition, since 2003, DOD's large cargo movement needs have increased with the acquisition of over 15,000 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles. Since there are no U.S. commercial cargo aircraft capable of moving cargo this size into Iraq and Afghanistan, DOD is using foreign-owned carriers to assist its military aircraft in such movements. However, there are scenarios where foreign-owned carriers may be unwilling or not allowed to fly. As a result, the lack of a commercial U.S. outsized cargo capability might restrict DOD's ability to meet its large cargo airlift needs in a timely manner. DOD has not quantified the risks these challenges pose to the CRAF program's ability to meet DOD's future transportation requirements because DOD has not completed risk assessments as described in the 2008 National Defense Strategy. Until risk assessments are conducted, DOD will not be sufficiently informed about potential risks in the CRAF charter passenger segment and in very large cargo airlift capability that could prevent DOD from managing its future airlift needs and the CRAF program effectively. DOD's management of CRAF has not provided CRAF participants with a clear understanding, which could strengthen the program's ability to support its objectives, in some critical areas of the program. Although internal controls such as policies can help meet program objectives, CRAF business partners do not have a clear understanding of DOD's expectations concerning four CRAF objectives--an enhanced mobilization base, modernization, increased air carrier participation, and communication--because DOD has not developed policies in these four areas. First, DOD has not developed policies regarding the enforcement of its business rules, such as the 60/40 rule that states that participants should fly only 40 percent of their total business for DOD. DOD does not consistently enforce this rule and this may decrease the mobilization base since it is difficult for carriers to size their fleets to meet DOD demands. Second, DOD has not developed policies or economic incentives that promote CRAF modernization and this may hinder CRAF carriers from modernizing their aircraft. Third, DOD has not developed policies regarding oversight of the distribution of its peacetime airlift business, the primary incentive to carriers for participating in CRAF. DOD has no involvement in this distribution, and the perceptions of some carriers that this process is unfair could ultimately reduce carrier participation in CRAF. Fourth, DOD has not developed policy concerning communication with the carriers on CRAF studies or proposed changes to the CRAF program. DOD has not always communicated with carriers prior to implementing changes or completing studies. Until DOD develops policies that provide carriers with a clear understanding of CRAF, DOD cannot provide reasonable assurance that CRAF will meet its primary objective of providing critical airlift.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: In written comments on a draft of this report, DOD did not agree with the recommendation to conduct risk assessments regarding the declining charter passenger capability and the lack of an outsized cargo capability as part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, but partially agreed with that part of the recommendation to develop policies and procedures to mitigate any identified risks. According to DOD officials, U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command are fully engaged in a Civil Reserve Air Fleet study that includes the development of mitigation strategies to address declining business in commercial passenger and cargo charter segments. However, as of September 2013, DOD could not provide a completed study, or evidence that confirmed it had developed mitigation strategies.

    Recommendation: To assist DOD with management of the CRAF program, and to help DOD identify and analyze risks associated with achieving program objectives, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Commander, U.S. Transportation Command, to (1) conduct risk assessments as outlined in DOD's National Defense Strategy that evaluate the declining U.S. charter passenger capability by establishing the maximum and minimum acceptable risk for the CRAF program expressed in terms of numbers of charter passenger aircraft necessary to meet DOD requirements and evaluate the lack of an outsized cargo capability to supplement military capability and the extent to which the reliance on foreign owned carriers is appropriate; and (2) develop appropriate policies and procedures for mitigating any identified risks.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In written comments on a draft of this report, DOD agreed with the second recommendation to develop policy for aspects of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program. In October 2011, U.S. Transportation Command published USTRANSCOM Instruction 24-9, "Civil Airlift Programs," that provides the policies and procedures for management of commercial airlift and Civil Reserve Air Fleet programs. This instruction establishes responsibilities and tasks required for efficient program management of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet Program. Furthermore, U.S. Transportation Command officials confirmed that they have taken actions to address the recommendation by: (1) overseeing and implementing DOD's flying hour training requirements while also providing commercial carriers with peacetime business; (2) revising the process for awarding business to carriers, including providing more flying bonus points to carriers that operate modern, fuel-efficient aircraft; (3) holding regular meetings with carriers to cover revisions to the rewards process, including providing more incentives to carriers who assume greater risk; and (4) establishing two new organizations, the Enterprise Readiness Center and the CRAF Executive Working Group, that will serve to strengthen the long term viability of the CRAF program. We believe these actions have met the intent of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: To assist DOD with management of the CRAF program, and to strengthen the effectiveness of the critical partnership between DOD and the U.S. commercial air carrier industry and the management of the CRAF program to achieve its objectives, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (Transportation Policy) to develop policy that (1) establishes enforcement guidelines for the basic CRAF business rules, to include intent, objectives, and measures of effectiveness mechanisms; (2) establishes incentives, objectives and measures of effectiveness required to ensure modernization of the CRAF fleets; (3) establishes and describes oversight mechanisms by which DOD will monitor how peacetime airlift business is distributed to ensure that its CRAF incentive program is working as intended; and (4) establishes and describes the mechanisms by which DOD includes CRAF participants to provide comments on pending program decisions and in information sharing, and that includes objectives and measures of effectiveness of these activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Aug 6, 2020

Jul 30, 2020

Jul 27, 2020

Jul 23, 2020

Jul 22, 2020

Jul 20, 2020

Jul 16, 2020

Jun 25, 2020

Looking for more? Browse all our products here