Download eBook for Free

Full Document

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 2.7 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

Research Summary

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 1.9 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.


Purchase Print Copy

 Format Price
Add to Cart Paperback74 pages $28.50

Research Questions

  1. How would a range of AB concepts now being considered affect the demand for MAF assets?
  2. What is the MAF's current ability to meet the air refueling and airlift demands required by different AB concepts?
  3. How can the MAF's capability (in terms of air refueling, airlift, and base enablers) be enhanced to better support AB concepts?

The U.S. Air Force is exploring adaptive basing (AB) concepts to reduce the vulnerability of U.S. forces to growing air and missile threats and to preserve critical combat capabilities in highly contested environments. These concepts are likely to stress the U.S. Air Force's global mobility capabilities. AB concepts call for force packages to operate in mobile and responsive ways to provide protection and fight from positions of advantage. Although these concepts place additional and different demands on the U.S. Air Force's global mobility capabilities, their effect on the Mobility Air Forces (MAF) had not been fully analyzed.

In this report, the authors assess the impact of AB concepts on the MAF and recommend how to enable the MAF to better support operations in contested environments. The analysis considers the impact of several AB concepts on the demand for tankers, airlift, and base enablers in the Pacific area of responsibility and examines the sufficiency of current MAF forces to support AB concepts. Potential enhancements are then considered.

In general, the authors find that the current MAF (tankers, airlift, and base enablers) could support a few fighter wings (two or three) operating using an AB scheme of maneuver. Significant changes must be made to support larger force packages. Potential enhancements include culture; tactics, techniques, and procedures; equipment; and new technologies.

Key Findings

MAF forces, as currently configured and resourced, would likely have difficulty supporting wide-ranging AB operations

  • Different AB concepts and different implementation approaches have vastly different implications for the MAF.
  • Under most circumstances, the MAF could support small elements of Combat Air Forces (CAF) fighters (about ten 24-hour, two-ship defensive counterair combat air patrols) using AB concepts with tankers from standoff—but only by engaging a large fraction of the MAF fleet.
  • Airlift operations appear less challenging but are highly dependent on the case analyzed. MAF units are not sized or structured to support AB concepts with the ability to deploy small packages at large scale.
  • Under most circumstances, base enablers (e.g., contingency response forces and base operation support) could support the cases analyzed, but an entire theater campaign would stress resources.
  • Command-and-control coordination between the CAF and MAF, vulnerability of communications and navigation, and MAF culture offer additional challenges.

Several enhancements are required for the MAF to support theater-wide fighter-based combat power using AB

  • Tankers will likely need to operate closer to the fight to meet large-scale demands.
  • Minimizing tanker forward ground times and operating from multiple forward bases could enhance tanker survivability while returning to standoff bases for maintenance.
  • A variety of options exist to reduce airlift demand, shorten airlift ground times, enhance survivability, cut the deployed footprint, and improve timelines and logistical efficiency. These include greater use of ground transportation, host-nation or contract support, prepositioning new aircraft material-handling technologies and concepts of operations (CONOPs), cross-training of personnel, and increased contingency response capability.
  • Seeking base agreements in advance with potential partners is highly desirable.


  • Air Mobility Command (AMC) should enhance integration with the CAF, joint, and component organizations to ensure that AB plans are developed in line with air mobility strengths and constraints.
  • AMC should experiment with new CONOPs to allow the MAF to best support AB operations.
  • AMC should coordinate with allied governments to enhance the potential for desirable basing and to better mitigate impacts on operations due to China's use of hard, soft, or sharp power.
  • AMC should conduct a complete review of rules and regulations (e.g., Air Force instructions) to enable more-effective operations in challenging environments while taking prudent risk.
  • AMC should consider how new equipment and technologies and new CONOPs could enable safer, more-efficient, and more-effective AB operations.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the director of strategic plans, requirements, and programs at Air Mobility Command and conducted within the Strategy and Doctrine Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

This document and trademark(s) contained herein are protected by law. This representation of RAND intellectual property is provided for noncommercial use only. Unauthorized posting of this publication online is prohibited; linking directly to this product page is encouraged. Permission is required from RAND to reproduce, or reuse in another form, any of its research documents for commercial purposes. For information on reprint and reuse permissions, please visit

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.