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Inside the Army Print


July 24, 2006 Vol. 18 No. 24

The Defense Department is enlisting commercial air cargo carriers to deliver military goods into Afghanistan and Iraq as part of a new effort to save money, reduce the demand for C-130s flown by reservists and -- in some cases  -- deliver supplies more quickly.

Logisticians at U.S. Central Command last week launched the "Commercial and Government Air Program," a 45-day trial effort that could set the stage for private carriers to tote as much as 20 percent of the cargo delivered across the region -- and save the Pentagon nearly $9 million a month, Air Force Col. Glen Joerger, deputy director of CENTCOM's Deployment and Distribution Operations Center at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, said in a July 20 telephone interview with InsideDefense. com.

The monthly cost for air cargo operations across the region has averaged $55 million for the early part of this year. But CENTCOM officials believe they can slash that tab by reducing military flights across long distances -- flights that previously carried relatively small loads. Instead, they are
hiring commercial carriers to ship the relatively small loads on previously scheduled flights, which would save hundreds of thousands of dollars a day in military aircraft operations costs.

This new effort, which is expected to reduce the presence of U.S. military aircraft across the region and prime local economies, began July 17 and already is demonstrating promising results, according to Joerger.

By tapping commercial carriers to carry all variety of military goods in cargo holds that might otherwise remain empty, the CENTCOM program has generated savings at a rate that could reach $7.5 million in its first month, he said.

These avoided costs translate into military aircraft being freed up for other air-drop, lift or even rescue missions. For instance, instead of delivering cargo, CENTCOM this week was able to divert four C-17s and one C-130 to Cyprus to assist with evacuating U.S. citizens fleeing the current
crisis in Lebanon without interrupting the flow of supplies throughout its area of responsibility, Joerger said.

This program also is intended to create more shipping capacity and reduce reliance on Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve pilots who fly a sizeable portion of the C-130 fleet.

During the next six weeks, CENTCOM logisticians will be evaluating the ability of participating commercial carriers -- including United Parcel Service, DHL, National Air Cargo, and UTi Worldwide, all of which are certified by Air Mobility Command as part of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet -- to handle military cargo requirements for delivery of goods across an area that reaches from East Africa over the Middle East and across Central Asia, as well as Pakistan.

In determining how best to move certain cargo pallets, CENTCOM logisticians participating in the program now assess commercial carriers along with the military air fleet. Early each morning, officials at the Deployment and Distribution Operations Center review cargo that must be shipped that day
and identify what might be suitable for commercial transportation, Joerger said. They then ask the participating private carriers to bid on the work.

"Sensitive" cargo remains on U.S. military flights, Joerger said.

The carriers -- which maintain aircraft fleets that include IL-76s, AN-12s and DC-8s -- review available cargo space on previously scheduled flights and if they have space, submit an offer.

"Because they are already paying for the flight, they offer us dramatically reduced rates for that space," Joerger said.

If it is less expensive to ship commercially, then the cargo will likely be tied down in the hold of a non-military plane within 24 hours for delivery in no longer than 72 hours, according to briefing slides describing the program.

The average pallet weighs 3,000 pounds, and CENTCOM believes that between 40 pallets and 60 pallets of military cargo a day -- on air routes including those between Kuwait and Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq, and Qatar and Iraq -- may eventually be assigned to commercial carriers.

These commercial flights are not sent into high-threat areas. Some military airfields across the region allow private firms to land aircraft. For those airfields that do not, CENTCOM logisticians arrange to transport the pallets by ground to the nearest commercial airport, Joerger said. -- Jason Sherman 

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