Cover: Commercial Intratheater Airlift

Commercial Intratheater Airlift

Cost-Effectiveness Analysis of Use in U.S. Central Command

Published Apr 8, 2013

by Ronald G. McGarvey, Thomas Light, Brent Thomas, Ricardo Sanchez


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Research Question

  1. Were expenditures on commercial intratheater airlift cost-effective, relative to the cost of using organic U.S. Air Force aircraft to provide these services?

Intratheater airlift delivers critical and time-sensitive supplies, such as blood products for transfusions or repair parts for vehicles, to deployed forces. Traditionally, military aircraft have provided this airlift. However, for various reasons, in recent years a number of commercial carriers have provided a significant amount of airlift within U.S. Central Command. But was this more cost-effective than using organic U.S. Air Force aircraft? To explore this question, the authors collected historical (2009) U.S. Central Command data and created models to identify the most cost-effective combination of commercial and organic airlift to perform the required movements. The calculations needed to address differences in fixed and marginal costs across alternatives as well as the effects of price elasticities of demand for commercial airlift providers. Model optimization runs showed a preference for U.S. Air Force-organic aircraft but suggested that commercial alternatives should be retained to supplement Air Force aircraft for a small fraction of movements. The authors further observed that U.S. Central Command planners could have benefitted from more sophisticated decision support tools to make daily intratheater cargo-aircraft allocation decisions.

Key Findings

C-17 and C-130 are both generally more cost-effective than commercial airlift, but commercial options should be retained to supplement USAF aircraft.

  • Across all optimization model runs, the model demonstrated a clear preference for increasing the use of U.S. Air Force aircraft and decreasing the use of commercial carriers, although there was a relatively small fraction of the U.S. Central Command intratheater demands for which IL-76 charters and TEP tenders were the most cost-effective options.

U.S. Central Command planners would benefit from new decision-support tools to help make daily airlift cargo allocation decisions.

  • Given a large collection of movement requirements and a set of airlift alternatives, this entails solving both a routing problem and an assignment problem: which movements to assign to which missions. The extremely large number of potential assignments prohibits any individual from considering all feasible options and selecting the most effective solution without the aid of a computer model.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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