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  • Danger For Strategic Airlift in Central Asia
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 3:19 PM on Feb 08, 2011

    The chief of U.S. transportation command says he is worried daily that advanced, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles will show up on the battlefield in Afghanistan or along the routes to fly there that could threaten strategic airlift.

    In particular, classified State Dept. cables have voiced concerns about Chinese weapons and trainers having connections with the Taliban.

    “Today [that threat] could change,” says Air Force Gen. Duncan McNabb. “I want us to stay ahead of it, with all of our international partners, [by being aware] these things might happen. We don’t talk a lot about it, we readjust. Even though it’s not a threat today, it could be tonight or tomorrow.”

    Leaked State Department cables and comments by allied analysts contend that Chinese specialists were seen training Taliban fighters in the use of surface-to-air missiles. The most prominent missile mentioned was the QW-1 Vanguard, an all-aspect, 35-lb. launch tube and missile that is reverse-engineered from the U.S. Stinger and the Russian SA-16 Gimlet (9K38 Igla). The QW-1M incorporates technology from the even more advanced SA-18 Grouse (9K38 Igla).

    “We have 900 sorties a day going sometimes into very dangerous places,” McNabb says. “We have a great relationship with the intel community so that if there is something [threatening] that comes up, we can immediately put that airplane on hold … until we sort that out.

    “If we have to redirect airflow and decide not go into [an] area because there might be something out there, that’s what we do,” McNabb says “We see some intel that says the kinds of things [about Chinese advisors and advanced missiles],” he says. “And we also see some that doesn’t. If we hear something like that, we will ask the intel folks to go back and take a good hard look to see what it is, in fact.”

    Other top concerns for McNabb include: 
    • About 90% of U.S. Transportation Command’s command and control capabilities are on unclassified networks.
    • A total of 33,326 computer events were directed at Transcom.
    • There were more than 1,100 attacks on supplies coming out of Pakistan by ground and those choke points in the lines of communications remain easy targets.
    • Piracy on shipping is huge and going world wide with 219 pirate events recorded.
    • Shots have been fired at 125 strategic airlift aircraft with 15 hits recorded. Strategic airlift aircraft are the primary targets.
    • Cybernetworks are protected, but not secure and remained the most attacked of Combat Command assets.
    McNabb also noted big savings from adjusting C-17 use in moving supplies to Afghanistan and predicted huge savings would be generated if a replacement tanker were available.

    Because of the need to refuel C-17s during longer trips to Afghanistan, Transcom logisticians discovered it is 45% more efficient to use the new airlifters for only the last leg of the trip. Savings are pegged at $110 million to $116 million per month through a reduction in aerial refuelings, he says.

    The savings from modifying in-flight refueling to make them more efficient could be further increased by introduction of a new tanker.

    “We pass more fuel than we carry cargo,” McNabb says. Tankers constitute the majority of Transcom’s 900 daily sorties. But because most KC-135s cannot receive fuel in flight, they have to carry that fuel and weight back to their base. The average amount of fuel returned to base is 35,000-40,000 lb. per aircraft.

    “They are carrying that all the time,” McNabb says. “We’re talking about 5 million lbs. a day. If you can leave that fuel in the fight, you only carry it one time. [Saving] 20 to 25 percent of the fuel bill is a lot.”

    However, the new tanker designs would allow the remaining fuel to be transferred to other tankers remaining in refueling orbits. The savings in fuel are calculated in the millions of gallons.

    Tags: ar99, C-17, Afghanistan, airlift, Manpads

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