Second, key airlift assets are already in short supply, making them even more important—and expensive. Antonov An-124 airlifters have been extensively used to transport outsized loads, mainly mine-resistant, ambush-protected and armored fighting vehicles into theatre—a role they will have to reprise on the way out. While there are around two dozen An-124s readily available for charter, more than a dozen NATO nations will be bidding to rent them. And they will have outside competition—they are also sought by Formula One teams to move between races, and by China-based toy and computer companies to get products to Western markets in time for the holidays.
The pressure on supply chains through the recently reopened Pakistan border crossing in Karachi, as well as the Northern Ground Line of Communications via Uzbekistan and the Trans-Siberian Railway, will only rise. All NATO nations will try to backload equipment as far in advance of the formal combat drawdown as possible, and will face congestion around the withdrawal points. The routes through Pakistan are, not surprisingly, regarded by planners as being fragile.
The building of a new passenger terminal at Camp Bastion/Leatherneck shows that planners are beginning to recognize that air transport might have to be the solution to holdups in the land routes, enemy action, and the requirements of specialized, valued equipment.
Even local disposition will be costly and difficult. Small arms ammunition is being burnt off in specially designed facilities. When this was undertaken in Iraq, the facilities were sometimes not that dissimilar from big ovens. But current facilities being installed in Afghanistan have to meet environmental standards to limit gases being released. As even 5.56-mm ammunition weighs at least 30 kg (66 lb.) per case in fully packaged form, shipping back hundreds of thousands of rounds that are no longer useable or safe represents a massive task. The British estimate that more than 30% of small arms ammunition is past safe use, and because ammunition is cheap it is just not worthwhile to manually check thousands of rounds to establish which could be salvaged.