Keeping Them Flying



The Long Tail

One of the realities of modern warfare is the incredible logistics challenge faced by armies, particularly on remote battlegrounds. Of course, supply lines and the importance they play has always affected the success of any military campaign, from the days of Hannibal and before.

With the dawning of the age of flight, a totally new level of support has entered the picture for military planners. In World War II, for example, the importance of air power resulted in the allocation of hundreds of thousands of troops to keep the planes fueled, flying and bombing. The seizing of such targets as Iwo Jima in the Pacific was necessary primarily to provide forward airbases.

The B-29, then the world’s most technologically advance bomber, required a ratio of more than 25 support personnel to one for every crew member. Today, the marvels of engineering that fly in our air forces, such as the F-16 and F-35, require immense amounts of ground support in the form of personnel and equipment. One glance at a site such as provides a small glimpse into the large number of components involved.


Expeditionary Airfields

One of the most challenging aspects of this task is making all of the support items easily deployable. Not only must all items be rugged enough to function in virtually any operating environment, they must be as light and transportable as possible.

All military strategies today rely on the ability to quickly setup operational airfields in remote and even hostile territory. Aside from planes, pilots and crew members, these airfields must also provide such items as:

  • Durable surface matting
  • Arresting gear
  • Lighting
  • Terminal guidance systems
  • Shelters for maintenance
  • Communications
  • Fuel depots
  • Personnel shelter, feeding and medical facilities
  • Replacement parts
  • Portable power and engine starting equipment


While the list goes on, it is easy to see that the task of establishing and operating a functional expeditionary airfield has a number of significant challenges. It takes a great deal of planning and foresight to ensure the needed equipment is ready to go at all times, especially when the timeline for operational readiness may consist of only a few days.

As the military continues to find itself facing situations requiring such deployments, the support process likewise continues to be honed and refined. It is now possible for entire squadrons to be deployed and operational in just about any foreign location in remarkably short time frames.


Photo credits: SMSgt Thomas Meneguin –

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