Monday, 17 January 2011

Logistics:Air Versus Sea

In an earlier post we mentioned that sea based logistics costs less than land based logistics.

Air based logistics is the most expensive of all.

Combat aircraft can deploy quickly over long distances,if they are supported by expensive fleets of aerial refuelling aircraft.

But combat aircraft are no use at all without runways,fuel bowsers,bombs,parts,technicians and all kinds of support equipment which must also be moved around the World.

During the liberation of Kuwait in 1990  1991 (Operation Granby),Britain's Royal Air Force used VC10 transport aircraft to deliver bombs to the Persian Gulf.

Each VC10 could carry up to 50 1,000 pound bombs on each trip.

It would have taken 120 VC10 flights to deliver those bombs by air.

It would have taken just 1 trip by a small cargo ship to deliver them by sea.

A ship would cost less to buy and operate than even a single VC10.

The VC10 might be able to deliver 50 bombs more quickly than the ship but the ship would deliver 6,000 bombs far more quickly than the aircraft.

It would take a single VC10 at least 4 months to deliver 6,000 bombs to the Gulf.

It would take a ship about a week.

The Royal Air Force also used VC10s and Hercules' to deliver bombs to Ascension Island during the Falklands War.

In the recent past,the United States Air Force has also used aircraft to transport bombs for it's land based bombers during Operation Enduring Freedom,the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

This was discussed in "STRATEGIC DEPLOYMENT REQUIREMENTS FOR AN  EXPEDITIONARY ARMY" by Lieutenant Colonel David D. Briggs,United States Army:

"The benefit of pre-positioning logistics stocks and equipment afloat can not be overestimated.

 This is not just a matter of having the stocks,but making the strategic decision early enough to have an effect that encourages more cargo to be moved via surface rather than the dependency on air.

In a recent instance of indecision and the air-centric associated costs,during the bombing campaign in Afghanistan in 2001,the Air Force stood on the verge of running short of precision guided munitions and 2000 lbs. bombs.

The bombs and Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kits were flown to Diego Garcia from CONUS for several weeks before the Air Force decided to release one of its pre-positioned ammunition ships, the MV (Motor Vessel) Major Bernard L. Fisher.

The need to fly these critical munitions as cargo bled throughput  and airlift assets away from the transportation and deployment of other cargo.

In terms of the cost in delaying a modal transportation decision,a USTRANSCOM brief to the
Defense Science Board in 2002 showed that moving 16 thousand JDAM to Diego Garcia by air cost $253 million,vice a surface deployment and utilization of pre-positioned stocks costing only $10.7 million."


"If more air munitions had been deployed on pre-positioned ships or at land bases in or near the theater during ENDURING FREEDOM,the number of hazardous airlift flights could have been reduced.

 Increasing forward-deployed precision-guided munition stockpiles would release more airlift assets for the transportation of other cargo.

At one point,the base at Diego Garcia nearly ran out of munitions for the warplanes it was
sending to Afghanistan.

The need to airlift such weapons to Diego Garcia for accelerated combat air operations from that Indian Ocean island demanded more airlift resources and increased risks.

At some of the staging bases,the temporary storing of hazardous cargo or its transfer from one aircraft to another was a problem.

Regulations required that such cargo be stored at certain distances from buildings, for example.

Another pre-positioned ship or two could have eliminated this problem.

One such ship could carry enough munitions to fill 400 C-130s (Hercules)."

The problems of air transport were ably expressed by Lieutenant General Daniel G. Brown,United States Army,then Deputy Commander in Chief,United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) in an interview with Dr. James K. Matthews in 2002:

"For example,the cost of shipping HDRs [humanitarian daily rations] via air is $7.24 a meal vice sixteen cents a meal for sea transport.

The difference in cost is tremendous.

The issue is,that when you wait until the last minute to make deployment decisions, 
the only way to get to your destination fast may be by high-cost airlift.

The problem with airlift is you can’t deploy very much very fast.

You can only load so much on a plane, and everyone’s competing for the same limited capacity.

  One thing is true:regardless of what you move,it will be extremely expensive by air. 

I don’t think that most people fully appreciate how expensive 
airlift is.

You’re paying several thousand dollars an hour for an airplane,and that’s not including the cost of the crew,training,the airplane, and all the other associated costs.

In addition,you’re flying 36-hour roundtrips and also have costs associated with air 

But if your combat aircraft are flying from the deck of a large aircraft carrier,there won't be any need to transport bombs by air.

A single large aircraft carrier and it's station ship carry with them more bombs than the Royal Air Force has dropped in any major war fighting operation since 1945. 

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