Defense Transportation:

Air Force's Airlift Study Met Mandate Requirements

GAO-15-457R: Published: May 26, 2015. Publicly Released: May 26, 2015.

Additional Materials:


Cary B. Russell
(202) 512-5431


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What GAO Found

Section112 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 required the Air Force to conduct a study on airlift. The Air Force contracted with RAND to conduct this study. RAND completed its study in December of 2012, and the Air Force submitted the study along with its report to the congressional defense committees in March 2013.  We found that the airlift study conformed to generally accepted research standards.  For example, the execution of the study plan was methodical and consistent, and it laid out the study’s tasks, timelines, and deliverables.

We also found that the study fully addressed the requirements of the mandate in that it

  • analyzed the four types of missions specified in the mandate using four approved scenarios: two overseas scenarios for the time-sensitive, direct support mission; one domestic scenario for the homeland defense mission; and one additional domestic scenario for both the disaster response and humanitarian assistance missions;
  • generated the requirements at five risk levels—very high, high, moderate, medium, and low—in the Air Force study to determine the likelihood of meeting airlift demand with a given deployed fleet size; and
  • was conducted in consultation with representatives from the Army, the National Guard Bureau, the combatant commands,and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

While most of the stakeholders agreed with the study’s conclusions, some of them did so with caveats.  For instance, officials from the Army, U.S. European Command, and U.S. Transportation Command noted that although their respective organizations concurred with the airlift study overall, they questioned the wider utility of the study because it did not consider planning limitations such as multiple simultaneous contingencies, or take into consideration unavailable aircraft.

Why GAO Did This Study

Section 112 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2012 required that the Secretary of the Air Force conduct a study to determine the number of fixed-wing (plane) and rotary-wing (helicopter) aircraft necessary to support the following four missions under Titles 10 and 32 of the U.S. Code—(1) homeland defense, (2) time-sensitive direct support, (3) disaster response, and (4) humanitarian assistance—at the following five levels of operational risk: low, medium, moderate, high, and very high. Section 112 also required that the study be completed in consultation with the Secretary of the Army, the Director of the National Guard Bureau, each supported commander of a combatant command, and the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.The Secretary of the Air Force was to submit a report containing the study to the congressional defense committees.

Section 112 also included a provision for GAO to conduct a sufficiency review of the study. This report determines the extent to which the Air Force’s airlift study conformed to generally accepted research standards and addressed the mandate’s requirements.

GAO identified applicable generally accepted research standards and the requirements outlined in the mandate. Then, GAO reviewed the airlift study and determined whether the study conformed to the standards and met the mandate. GAO also interviewed the officials who led the study from the Air Force, including the Air Mobility Command, and from RAND as well as officials identified to be the most knowledgeable from the Air Force, Army, National Guard Bureau, the combatant commands, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to determine the extent to which they or their offices had been consulted during the completion of the study.

What GAO Recommends

No recommendations.

For more information, contact Cary Russell at 202-512-5431 or

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