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C-17s would help USAFE's air mobility business

A C-17 Globemaster III awaits loading on the parking ramp at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Sunday, March 19, 2006. The transport, from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., helps a fleet of Air Force cargo planes move troops and cargo from stateside bases to Iraq and Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. John E. Lasky)

A C-17 Globemaster III awaits loading on the parking ramp at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, on Sunday, March 19, 2006. The transport, from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., helps a fleet of Air Force cargo planes move troops and cargo from stateside bases to Iraq and Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. John E. Lasky)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany -- As the need grows for more Air Force transports to move cargo and troops to Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. Air Forces in Europe is feeling the pinch.

Today, most Air Force airlift missions support military operations in the two countries, said Col. Phil Bossert, commander of 16th Air Force's air mobility operations control center at this busy airlift hub.

Most missions executed through the U.S. Central Command Air Forces combined air operations center are air mobility missions, he said. The airlift missions "normally outnumber kinetic missions -- sometimes by as much as two to one."

"This is very much a mobility war," he said. "Airlift is definitely big business."

But airlift is big business at Ramstein, too. USAFE, which has its headquarters here, has its own growing airlift needs as it transforms and expands its operations south and east. The colonel said it needs a squadron of new transport aircraft to keep pace with its airlift requirements.

"No doubt about it, we need C-17 (Globemaster IIIs)," he said. The Globemasters would boost the command's fleet of airlift aircraft.

The colonel said 90 to 95 percent of the command's daily operational missions in its area of responsibility -- which stretches from northern Europe to southern Africa and parts of the Middle East -- are mobility missions.

"With the global war on terrorism, business here is very, very good," Colonel Bossert said.

But there is there is little airlift to spare, and so the command relies on an aging fleet of 52 aircraft. From its underground home, the AMOCC tries to match the command's daily airlift requirements to its available aircraft.

Colonel Bossert said sometimes that is not possible. One reason is the command has "a significant number of problems" with the wear of the center wing box of its C-130E Hercules. This caused the command to ground some of its Hercules since last July. And more will be restricted in the next few years.

"We could really use a squadron of C-17s -- especially with the long distances we're flying to Africa," Colonel Bossert said. "The C-17 is ideal for landing in austere airfields in Africa."

But for now, the only C-17 Globemaster IIIs in Europe belong to Air Mobility Command. Some fly out of Ramstein and a desert base. Their main focus is getting cargo from the United States to Iraq and Afghanistan and air-evacuating wounded troops to hospitals in Germany and elsewhere.

The command has had to rely on a rotating squadron of Reserve and Guard C-130s to help pick up the airlift slack. But when it had to ground some of its own "Hercs," the Reserve and Guard could not keep pace with the demand, the colonel said.

As a result, the command could not support 145 missions from July through February, Colonel Bossert said.

He said the C-130s are hard-pressed to meet the requirements of the command's many contingency missions -- it had 34 in the past 18 months. An example is the airlift support provided to U.N operations in Sudan's Darfur region. It took several Hercules to do the job.

"One C-17 would have saved us from using four C-130s," Colonel Bossert said. "And that one C-17 could have done in one week what the four C-130s did in about two and half weeks."

As the command and U.S. Army Europe continue to streamline and transform, the need for airlift will grow. When the Army starts rotating Stryker brigades to bases in Germany and other parts of Europe, like Romania and Bulgaria, C-17s will be required for airlift, he said.

"It's impractical to rotate battalion- or brigade-size units using C-130s," he said.

A squadron of C-17s -- no matter where based -- would also help the command's air evacuation mission. One thing it does now is to put medical teams on transiting Globemasters. On March 20, a C-17 flew 16 patients from Balad Air Base, Iraq, to Ramstein. The mission was a milestone for the transport, which surpassed its 1 millionth hour mark on the Ramstein leg of the flight.

Nurse Maj. David Ball -- a Mississippi guardsman recalled to active duty -- was the medical crew director on the historic flight. He prefers the Globemaster for such missions because it is "very friendly for air medical evacuation."

"It's a wonderful airframe," the major said. "The lighting, the temperature, the oxygen and the ability we have to set up stanchions (is great). And you can plug directly into the wall for electricity."

Major Ball, who has flown on the C-17 since it joined the Air Force inventory, said the aircraft is "the most versatile air medical evacuation platform available."

Colonel Bossert said having even just a few C-17s would allow the command to provide better air evacuations -- and all types of airlift in general. It would make the command more responsive to airlift needs.

"Having a squadron of C-17s -- just a small squadron of six tails -- would have an enormous and positive impact on this AOR," the colonel said.