Full Spectrum Readiness: Airlift


Airlift began during World War I, when a handful of soldiers were flown from one airfield to another in Illinois. It has grown into not only a means of providing equipment and troops for fighting wars but also a humanitarian source of lifesaving provisions.

But what is Full Spectrum Readiness as it applies to airlift?

First, let us define airlift. Merriam-Webster describes airlift as “a system of transporting cargo or passengers by aircraft often to or from an otherwise inaccessible area.” That definition is simple and clear, but insufficient to fully capture the vital function of this first of the four mission components of the Air Mobility Command (AMC).

Gen Maryanne Miller, AMC Commander, put it more comprehensively: “Our mission is to facilitate the rapid aerial delivery of cargo and personnel ... AMC delivers these effects to wherever they are needed, whenever they are needed, under any circumstances.”

The U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) website describes the types of airlift services provided by AMC. Channel cargo service is a scheduled airlift between two locations that is provided to Department of Defense (DoD) activities throughout the world. Distribution channels are recurring channel services that are scheduled on the basis of the volume of traffic, on the basis of operational necessity to support a mission-sensitive area, or to support quality of life in a remote area. Contingency channels are channel services that occur on the basis of operational necessity to support mission, operations, and contingencies directed by the Secretary of Defense according to the Joint Chiefs of Staffs DoD Transportation Movement Priority System.

A Special Assignment Airlift Mission (SAAM) provides a specific service for a user at a prearranged time and date. SAAMs are used instead of channel missions because of the unusual nature or sensitivity of the mission, urgency of the cargo, or delivery to places outside established channels.

Joint Operational Support Airlift (OSA) Missions include OSA missions; transportation of military or DoD civilians on official business; and movement of high-priority passengers and cargo that are time, place, or mission sensitive. The Joint Operational Support Airlift Center (JOSAC) at Scott AFB, IL, coordinates OSA flights and all DoD fixed-wing OSA requirements within the continental United States.

To dive deeper into the concept of airlift, one must consider various scenarios in which airlift may serve the joint forces of our military.

Picture our hard-fighting troops, defending freedom for us and our allies. They are short on sleep, food, and even water—yet they continue in the face of great physical danger and stress. Enter AMC airlift with supplies and additional troops.

Next, consider our troops in remote, war-torn areas, with injured comrades or civilians. They have the trained medics, but medicine, cleansing supplies, and medical equipment are becoming more and more scarce. AMC airlift arrives with exactly what the doctor(s) ordered, and lives will be saved.

In a final scenario, troops have been fighting far longer than anyone had imagined. The enemy seems to have an unending supply of weapons and ammunition, but our troops are becoming concerned because theirs are running out. Here comes AMC airlift with more weapons and ammo.

Now that we have a more comprehensive idea of what constitutes an airlift, we should understand why Full Spectrum Readiness is necessary.

Airmen can be called on to go anywhere at any time of the day or night, and they are expected to be ready. Lives depend on them.

Readiness begins with sufficient, high-quality training, such as MOBILITY GUARDIAN, AMC’s flagship exercise for large-scale Rapid Global Mobility operations. Airmen must be ready to deal with challenging situations intuitively—because of their training.

Another challenge Airmen must prepare for is mobility operations in contested environments. “There is always fog and confusion in war. The enemy always gets a vote in what you do, especially in Afghanistan. There is the risk of aircraft damage or injury to personnel,” said Lt Col Jonathan Esses, 41st Airlift Squadron (AS) Commander, Little Rock AFB, AR. The 41 AS was awarded the 2018 General Joseph Smith trophy for being the most outstanding airlift squadron in AMC by leading the largest wing exercises, delivering major overseas airdrops, and achieving the lowest C-130J mishap rate for eight years.

“Full Spectrum Readiness requires leaders to not only properly equip their Airmen but also ensure they are trained for tomorrow’s fight,” said MSgt Kristine Dreyer, AMC Public Affairs.

Throughout a world in which weapons, crusades, and armies are constantly evolving; in which natural disasters present hardships to communities that may already face the challenges of poverty or the residual effects of previous weather events; and in which funding for military and humanitarian efforts is subject to the whims of the current political forces, Airmen maintain a strong, steady lifeline for the warriors who protect our freedom and for people in lands devastated by war and nature’s vagaries. Full Spectrum Readiness makes that possible.