US Air Force Airlift
What does it take to be who we are in the world? To be able to strike deals massively lopsided in our favor? To make demands, threats, and/or promises of peace? Who knows, we could be your best friend, or your worst enemy. What does it take for the US be in this position?
The answer: logistical capability spawned through the thorough application of immense capital both financial and human. A large US Army on the contintinental US can’t really do much across the globe unless it can get there. Of course, we can always use our US Navy sea-based assets to land US Marines on the shorelines. However, any major theater conflict or a landlocked battlefield will need more than just boats. That’s why the US Air Force possesses the largest and most complicated logistical airlift capability in the world.
The biggest: Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy
The C-5 Galaxy is one of the largest aircraft in the world. At over 247 ft long, it’s bigger than either of the newest and largest civilian aircraft to ever hit the market, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner or the Airbus A380. Designed to carry oversized loads at intercontinental distances, this mighty aircraft is classified as a strategic airlifter, capable of moving massive assets around the globe. It’s cargo capacity is an astounding 270 tons, but with all of this comes heavy maintenance and costs. In fact, this aircraft is reported to require 16 hours of maintenance to evey 1 hour of flight time. Ouch. This aircraft is typically used in special circumstances, where the C-17 Globemaster mentioned below bares the brunt of the strategic airlift demands of the US Military.
Medium-Sized: Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
This beastly aircraft takes the middle ground between size and speed, and can perform roles of either strategic or tactical airlift missions. With up to 190 operational C-17s in the US Airforce inventory, this aircraft is one of the most heavily relied-upon workhorses in the military. It’s payload of 170,000 tons enables it to carry massive amounts of cargo, but due to the large size/weight of most of the US military’s mechanized forces, it can only carry 1 M1A1 Abrams tank (70 tons). These aspects of airlifting (weight/maintenance/costs) are major influencing factors on the Army’s current investments in building a lighter and more mobile fighting force, epitomized by vehicles such as the Stryker. Either way, this aircraft strikes the balance needed between the obscenely massive C-5 Galaxy and the smaller C-130 Hercules featured below.
Tactical Airlift Champ: Lockheed C-130 Hercules
The Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules has almost too many variants and uses to list. Being awarded for the single longest production-run airframe of any other in the world, the C-130 is nearly impossible to avoid participation in either a tactical transport, aerial refueling, or even strike mission role in any conflict over the last 50 years. Likewise, the C-130 is the most widely exported plane, with over 50 nations having purchases some variant since the original C-130 maiden flight in 1954. Popular and widely variants of the transport version C-130 hercules would be the HC-130 variants intended for troop insertions and aerial refueling of helicopters, and also the AC-130 Spectre gunship, intended for close-combat air support and assaults. The newest and most up-to-date production model is the C-130 J Super Hercules.