Today, as a snapshot of the Navy's year round logistics effort, there are two C-9s and one C-130 operating in the Mediterranean, transporting sailors, supplies and mail to the forward deployed carrier battlegroups. One C-9 and one C-130 are flying similar missions in the Western Pacific. 20 additional aircraft are providing Navy logistical airlift support both throughout the United States and internationally. Today is just another day in the life of Reserve Naval Air Logistics (VR). By the end of the year, the Navy's Fleet Logistics Support Wing (FLSW) will have moved over 250,000 people and 24 million pounds of cargo.
Manned by Naval Reservists and based throughout the United States, FLSW has evolved from a few detachments supporting the movement of reservists to drill sites, to the Navy's largest airwing providing virtually 100% of the Navy's air logistics support worldwide.
The Navy has been in the air logistics business for generations. It provided global support in conjunction with the Air Force via the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) in the 1940s, operating small utility transports and a variety of aircraft converted to perform the mission. Active duty squadrons received C-118s for Navy support in the 1960s and air logistics remained a regular Navy mission until the 70s with the advent of the Reserve Force Squadron (RESFORON).
C-118s, C-54s and C-131s attached to air stations were flown by reservists to fill the requirement of transporting reservists to their drill sites. C-118 RESFORONs were established shortly thereafter to perform reserve support missions with permanent detachment sites throughout the United States. Two week detachments to Guam and Spain for OUTCONUS fleet support were initiated, marking the beginning of VR as the Navy's Logistic Airline.
The modern era of VR began in 1974 with the acquisition of C-9B Skytrain II aircraft, replacing the aging C-118s. Originally assigned to Regular Navy VR squadrons, custody of the C-9s was shifted to RESFORONs; shortly thereafter, Reserve VR squadrons began conducting worldwide fleet support.
Concurrent with the need for high volume air logistics support provided by the C-9s was the requirement for fast, cost-effective movement of VIPs. The CT-39 Sabreliner program was established in 1974 to fill the void, operating in both Regular Navy squadrons and Reserve detachments.
In 1975, plans to purchase more C-9Bs were approved to replace the remaining C-118s operating on extensions of the initial 30,000 hour lifespan, but the monies were reappropriated to finance Regular Navy programs. The C-118s that were to cease operations by the end of FY-77 continued flying into the early 1980s, when they were finally replaced by C-9Bs and used DC-9s purchased on the open market from Evergreen, Alitalia and Air Iberia Airlines. To meet the Navy's mission requirements, the 12 DC-9s required significant modifications, some of which have yet to be completed. As regional airliners, a cargo door was necessary, as were additional fuel tanks and upgraded navigational equipment for safe oceanic transit.
Fleet requirements for air logistics continued to increase throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s. As the demand increased, so did the versatility of the VR support structure. To augment the C-9 program, the Sabreliners were incorporated into the mainstream of Naval Air logistics, transporting small passenger groups of six or seven, primarily within the boundaries of the United States. C-12 King Airs operated from air stations throughout the world. The C-130T Hercules turboprop joined the VR family in the early 90s, augmenting the in-theater support provided by the C-9s, contributing the ability to move oversized cargo great distances, and operating from less than optimum airfields. More recently, FLSW obtained the C-20D and G, Gulfstream III and IV aircraft, adding a new and vital dimension of capability to the inventory. Employing a sophisticated Flight Management System and "glass cockpit," this jet is designed to move medium lifts of high priority personnel or cargo quickly over great distances. In this capacity, the C-20s have filled a niche previously unavailable except through limited and expensive commercial transportation.
Fleet Logistics Support Wing is now the largest airwing in the Navy. Consisting of 12 squadrons and three permanent detachments, and based throughout the continental United States and Hawaii, its 58 VR aircraft provide constant support for theater commanders around the world.
Recent downsizing and the decommissioning of the last active duty VR units in Europe and the Western Pacific have resulted in an increased demand for FLSW assets abroad. Operating from Sigonella, Sicily and Atsugi, Japan, the reserve VR aircraft provide the lifeline of support to the forward operating fleet. In FY-97, scheduled C-9 detachments in Bahrain will provide support to NAVCENT, as C-20 detachments to the WESTPAC will begin.
Possibly the most unique attribute of FLSW is its relationship with its scheduler, the Navy Air Logistics Office (NALO). Unlike their USAF counterparts who are scheduled like commercial air carriers, 100% of VR's annual logistics flight hours meet unscheduled support requirements. Fleet units transmit specific lift requirements to NALO who, after validating and determining efficiency, assigns the "lift" to an appropriate aircraft unit. The schedules are generated just 72 hours prior to the flight are often modifed up to the day of the flight to accomodate the changing needs of field units. It is not unheard of that flights are modified via Air Traffic Control while enroute to a destination. Responsiveness and flexibility have become the hallmark of a successful VR mission.
|A unique and critical capability of all FLSW units is their responsiveness. Many high priority, international missions have been assigned and flown within a few hours of the initial request for services. When the Marine barracks were bombed in Beirut, C-9s were on station delivering supplies and assisting in the evacuation. Shortly after the assault began, C-9s were in Grenada, delivering logistics support and evacuating civilians. When Construction Battalion units were critically needed in Sarajevo, a C-130 detachment was diverted to complete the mission within 24 hours. These are only a few of the many examples of short notice fleet support; responsiveness is a matter of routine for the Reservist in a VR squadron today.|
At the core of any military unit is its personnel. As the VR peacetime mission provides mobilization readiness training to its 4,075 reservists 365 days a year, FLSW maintains the best possible trained reserve units. The only complete reserve units mobilized in Operation Desert Storm, four C-9 squadrons, consisting of over 1000 personnel were on station in Germany and Italy within three days of activation, providing logistics support for all deployed forces throughout Europe and the Middle East.
The ease with which the squadrons transformed from unscheduled airlines to the logistics source for over 40,000 pounds of weapons per aircraft per night during the air war is a tribute to the dedication of each reservist who makes up the VR program. Not the typical "weekend warrior," the average VR selected reservist provides over 7 days a month to the squadron, training to the critical skills necessary for wartime mobilization.
Unlike the reserve maritime patrol, helicopter and TACAIR communities, another unique characteristic of VR is the lack of regular Navy units from which to recruit previously qualified personnel. The "train from within" concept (the squadron experts pass on their knowledge and experience to new personnel) has been highly successful in transforming reservists, some with no active duty experience, into mechanics and technicians, yeomen and administrators, flight engineers and loadmasters. For both officers and enlisted, community expertise is the result of special individuals and their aggressive training programs. Initial pilot training is received through an intensive commercial simulator/ground school course followed by a flight training syllabus at the squadron. Within a month of initial check-in, the newly assigned aviator assumes copilot duties and begins operating in the worldwide arena.
The future for the VR reservist is bright. As the only airwing that continued to grow during the recent downsizing/rightsizing efforts, opportunities will remain available in this community into the next century.
Operate Navy Unique Fleet Essential Airlift Aircraft worldwide to provide:
A professional, fully trained, well equipped Fleet Logistics Support Wing providing worldwide logistics support to the fleet in constantly changing arena of operations, through Total Quality Leadership and Personal Excellence.
The aging VR aircraft are lagging far behind their commercial counterparts, in both safety and navigational equipment. The Air Force T-43 accident in Dubrovnik served to put military logistics in the media spotlight and has accelerated fleet modernization efforts. The C-130s and the C-9s are both slated for immediate upgrades to incorporate flight data recorders and global positioning satellite (GPS) systems in response to a SECDEF mandate.
Additional avionics upgrades for the C-9 will be incorporated within the next three years in an attempt to bring the fleet up to FAA standards. Although safe to operate, the 1970s technology will soon reach obsolescence as "Free Flight" and Future Air Navigation Systems (FANS) becomes the norm for air transport operators. Because the C-130 operates at a much lower altitude than commercial transports, it will not be greatly effected.
Unfortunately, the C-9 avionics upgrade will only provide a temporary fix to larger impending problems. Noise restrictions will not be met by the C-9 engines, resulting in significant fines while operating in the European theater. Although "hush kits" could be installed, the additional weight would preclude transoceanic travel. The ability to operate as detachments in theaters overseas would be severely restricted. The loss of funding to Wake Island, which serves as a primary refueling site for trans-Pacific flights, could ultimately preclude C-9 operations in the WESTPAC theater.
Efforts are underway to procure a replacement for the aging C-9 fleet. The replacement aircraft will meet all fleet requirements as well as the stringent FAA and European restrictions. It will have the capability to transit the Pacific, with Hawaii as the only fuel stop. In order for FLSW to continue to provide the fleet with current levels of logistics support, replacement aircraft are essential.
Title 10 U.S. Code prescribes organic airlift capability for each of the services and supports separate ownership. Navy unique requirements were clearly presented in the past and recently recognized by Congress in the acquisition of the C-130 and C-20 aircraft. Although the primary mission of Navy logistics aircraft is fleet support, they are designated as Operational Support Airlift (OSA) assets rather than Navy Unique Fleet Essential Aircraft (NUFEA). A seemingly minor distinction, this designation resulted in an attempt to consolidate the Navy's OSA assets with the Air Force by SECDEF in 1974. Accustomed to operating their OSA assets as a scheduled airline, the Air Force was unable to meet the demands of the Navy's schedule and within two months, the Naval Reserve was allowed to retain custody of its aircraft.
With DoD downsizing in the early 1990s, the role of the Naval Reserve's OSA assets was expanded to fill the void. In FY-96, the C-9 and C-130 RESFORONs will execute the equivalent of 122 two-week detachments in the Mediterranean, WESTPAC and Middle Eastern theaters, an increase of over 650% over just five years. Although fleet utilization of the assets continues to expand, another consolidation attempt was launched by the Air Force earlier this year. The Naval Reserve won only a partial victory; ownership of the assets was retained in FLSW but scheduling authority of the C-9 and C-20 INCONUS operations was shifted to TRANSCOM, the USAF centralized scheduler, effective FY-97. The ability of TRANSCOM to adequately service fleet requirements remains to be seen. Most likely, the Navy will lose some service while TRANSCOM attempts to satisfy joint service requirements with an existing number of transport assets.
Studies conducted in the mid-80s by the Center for Naval Analyses determined that the Naval wartime airlift requirement was significantly greater than the assets on hand, both in terms of numbers and aircraft types. Navy unique logistics support aircraft that were directly responsive to fleet units (CinCs) were used in models to serve as deployed links between MAC/SAM channel terminals and in-theater supply points to COD, VOD and surface mobility sites. In 1994, the wartime requirements were reduced based on the reduction of Carrier Battle Groups. The wartime requirement was revalidated and the current inventory of Naval logistics assets remains well below the optimum.
Designation of the Naval Reserve's logistics aircraft as NUFEA would best describe the mission they actually perform. Centralized scheduling could easily be seen as the first step toward gaining control and ultimately ownership of all OSA assets by the Air Force. Navy organic airlift complements OSA by providing the fleet cost-effective, responsive and flexible intra-theater transportation. All efforts should be made to retain custody and control of the Naval Reserve by redesignation as NUFEA and reversion of scheduling authority to NALO.