Military Readiness:

Air Transport Capability Falls Short of Requirements

NSIAD-00-135: Published: Jun 22, 2000. Publicly Released: Jul 25, 2000.

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Norman J. Rabkin
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the U.S. air mobility forces' readiness to execute the National Military Strategy, focusing on: (1) whether the Air Force's strategic airlift and aerial refueling fleets are capable of meeting the requirements for winning two nearly simultaneous major theater wars; (2) the reasons for any shortfalls in strategic airlift and aerial refueling capability; and (3) what Department of Defense's (DOD) efforts are underway to resolve these capability shortfalls and what are the issues it faces in doing so.

GAO noted that: (1) DOD does not have sufficient airlift and aerial refueling capability to meet two major theater war requirements because many aircraft needed to carry out wartime activities are not mission ready; (2) in total, GAO estimates DOD is short: (a) over 29 percent of the needed military airlift capability; and (b) nearly 19 percent of the needed refueling aircraft; (3) while the shortfalls do not mean the United States cannot win two major theater wars, the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff estimates that due to airlift shortfalls, military forces would arrive later than originally planned, thereby increasing the risk that war plans would not be executed in a timely manner and possibly increasing casualties; (4) Air Force Headquarters officials attribute shortfalls in airlift and aerial refueling capability primarily to the age of the aircraft and spare parts shortages; (5) aircraft used for airlift are the C-5, C-141, and C-17; (6) KC-135 aircraft are used for aerial refueling, and KC-10 aircraft are used for both missions; (7) the C-5 fleet, which ranges in age from 10 to 30 years, averages about 21 years old and the KC-135 fleet is 39 years old; (8) in recent years, the mission capability of these aging aircraft has declined primarily because of the increasing number of aircraft that need depot maintenance; (9) Air Force data show that C-5 and KC-135 aircraft have suffered lower mission capability due to shortages of spare parts; (10) the Air Mobility Command is considering spending $18 billion through fiscal year 2012 on airlift and aerial refueling aircraft; (11) its plans include buying C-17s and upgrading the C-5 and KC-135 aircraft; and (12) however, the results of ongoing DOD studies reevaluating airlift and refueling requirements and alternatives could increase future requirements, change budget priorities, and lead to the procurement of more aircraft.

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