Airlift Capabilities for Future U.S. Counterinsurgency Operations
Apr 28, 2007
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U.S. armed forces are engaged in ongoing counterinsurgency (COIN) operations ranging from the large-scale, high-intensity campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan to many smaller missions that rarely make headlines, helping friendly governments around the world combat internal enemies. Airlift is essential in modern counterinsurgency strategies because it allows governments to deploy and support forces over long distances and facilitates efforts to extend governance and stability into remote areas. The likelihood that COIN will continue to be a major focus of U.S. national security policy has therefore revitalized debate about whether or not this type of warfare demands airlift forces with unique equipment, training, and doctrine in light of the operational contrasts between counterinsurgencies and more-conventional conflicts.
A RAND Project AIR FORCE (PAF) study of airlift requirements for COIN operations concludes that the United States should rely largely on its general airlift forces — including headquarters, units, and core aircraft types — to perform these missions. With adjustments in employment doctrines and training, these forces can accomplish the majority of COIN missions effectively. Indeed, for most missions, the tactical elements of airlift in conventional and unconventional conflicts are much the same.
However, the demands of ongoing and future COIN operations may call for substantial reinvestment and perhaps some realignment of U.S. airlift forces. Given the stress on the aging theater and battlefield airlift fleets, the day is not far off when they will require recapitalization. Moreover, COIN airlift operations present planners with some distinctive challenges that should influence the recapitalization and perhaps restructuring of the national airlift fleet. These include
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