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Should C-17s Be Used to Carry In-Theater Cargo During Major Deployments?

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In 1995, RAND was asked to support a study, called the C-17 Tactical Utility Analysis (TUA), to examine possible roles for the C-17 as an in-theater airlifter. The study, conducted by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Program Analysis and Evaluation (OSD(PA&E)), with the support of the Services, found a need for up to a squadron of C-17s operating in-theater during major regional contingencies. The work described in this Documented Briefing used the same assumptions as those in the Tactical Utility Analysis, but a different analytic approach, thereby helping to validate the findings. RAND had two objectives in its support of the TUA: one to estimate the capacity of airfields to support air mobility operations and the other to evaluate possible concepts of operation for in-theater C-17 operations. The first objective is addressed in James P. Stucker, Ruth T. Berg, et al., Understanding Airfield Capacity for Airlift Operations, Santa Monica, CA: RAND, MR-700-AF/OSD (forthcoming). This Documented Briefing addresses the second objective. The authors conclude that there is a robust role for about one squadron of 12 C-17s in-theater during major regional contingencies. However, this number holds only if the assumption is made that the aircraft must be assigned to the theater for the entire duration of the contingency. Even greater benefit may be obtained by deploying more C-17s for in-theater operations during some parts of the contingency and fewer at other times. As an alternative, the authors found that the "stratshuttle" concept, in which shuttles are flown by C-17s arriving in the theater on strategic missions, could probably fly most of the missions that would otherwise require theater-assigned C-17s. Regardless of the concept of employment, there seems to be a clear in-theater role for the C-17 during MRCs.