Everything you need to know about the civilian reserve air fleet
Historically, civilian air transport has played a major role in the American military mobilization. During the first two years of WWII, the Air Transport Association moved much of the Army’s personnel and equipment by air until the Air Transportation Command built its fleet of planes and trains crews to take on the strategic airlift mission.
In 1952, civilian planes were again used to support a military mission during the Berlin Airlift. As a result, it was decided that a more defined agreement was needed for civilian air transport to support the military in an emergency. The result was the civilian reserve air fleet.
CRAF is divided into international and national segments. The international segment is further divided into long and short range sections while the domestic segment serves all domestic needs in the United States. This reserve fleet can be called in for minor contingencies up to national defense emergencies.
The international long-haul section is made up of passenger and freight aircraft capable of transoceanic flights. These aircraft complement Air Mobility Command’s C-5 Galaxies and C-17 Globemaster IIIs in long-range inter-theater airlift operations. The international short-haul section is made up of medium-sized passenger and cargo aircraft. They support offshore and intra-theater air transport operations.
Civilian carriers voluntarily join the CRAF. These carriers contractually promise aircraft to CRAF segments to serve military missions if necessary. In return, the DoD brings business to partner carriers by booking flights and shipping freight with them to a predetermined dollar amount. For example, in 2005, the DoD guaranteed $ 418 million in business to CRAF airlines.
To be eligible for the international CRAF segment, carriers must meet certain requirements. First, they must be registered in the United States. Second, they must maintain a minimum commitment of 40% of its CRAF capable fleet. Third, they must engage and maintain a 4: 1 cockpit crew ratio for each aircraft accepted into the fleet.
In August 2021, 24 carriers and 450 aircraft are registered with the CRAF. This includes 37 aircraft in the domestic segment, 145 in the international short-haul section and 268 in the international long-haul section. Air Force notes numbers are subject to change on a monthly basis
The CRAF is activated in three progressive stages. Phase I is a response to minor regional crises. Stage II is used for major theater wars. Stage III involves full national mobilization. With orders from the Secretary of Defense, the commander of the US Transportation Command is the activating authority for the three stages of the CRAF.
Upon activation, carriers have 24, 48 or 72 hours to prepare their aircraft for a CRAF mission depending on the CRAF step activated. The planes are maintained and operated by the carriers, however, AMC will assign their mission. The CRAF was previously activated to support Operation Desert Shield / Storm from August 1990 to May 1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom from February 2002 to June 2003.
On August 22, 2021, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the Commander of USTRANSCOM to activate Phase I of CRAF for Operation Allies Refuge. The activation increases DoD’s support to the State Department in the evacuation of U.S. citizens and personnel, special immigrant visa applicants, and others at risk from Afghanistan. A total of 18 aircraft were activated: three each from American Airlines, Atlas Air, Delta Airlines and Omni Air; two from Hawaiian Airlines; and four from United Airlines.
CRAF planes will not fly to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. The DoD said, “They will be used for the subsequent movement of passengers from temporary shelters and interim staging bases.” This allows military planes to focus on flights to and from Kabul.
Already, the Al Udeid air base in Qatar has reached its capacity to accommodate Afghan evacuees. Bahrain recently authorized the United States to transport evacuees to Isa Air Base to continue their flights from Afghanistan. Once evacuees are processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, they are airlifted to other bases overseas and to the United States for subsequent medical examination and administrative processing. It is likely that CRAF aircraft will increase AMC in the latter aspect of the operation.
The DoD has confirmed that Fort Lee in Virginia, Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Bliss in Texas will house the Afghan evacuees. Some states, including New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Georgia, Utah and Iowa, have also pledged to accept Afghan refugees.
Featured Image: US Air Force photo