Military transport aircraft or military cargo aircraft are used to airlift troops and military equipment to support military operations. Air transport provides a military commander with the capability to deploy, employ and re-deploy forces and equipment quickly and over considerable distances, sustain those forces and support effective application of their military effort. Without transport planes delivering soldiers, weapons, trucks, food, fuel, communications equipment, and many other things to a war theater, a military’s ability to fight anywhere on Earth is compromised. In addition, airlift provides the military with a humanitarian capability to aid areas hit by famine
or natural disasters or blockaded by war or enemies.
Military cargo aircraft or transport aircraft are typically fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft that are used to carry troops, weapons, and other military equipment to any area of military operations across the world. Some military transport aircraft perform multi-role duties, such as aerial refueling, as well as rescue missions, and tactical, operational, and strategic airlifts onto unprepared runways.
Fixed-wing transport aeroplanes are defined in terms of their range capability as strategic airlift or tactical airlift to reflect the needs of the land forces which they most often support. These roughly correspond to the commercial flight length distinctions: Eurocontrol defines short-haul routes as shorter than 1,500 km (810 nmi), long-haul routes as longer than 4,000 km (2,200 nmi) and medium-haul between.
Types of Air Transport Operations
Transport aircraft can be used for both strategic and tactical missions, and are often diverted to civil emergency relief missions. Strategic air transport involves the intertheatre movement of personnel and equipment. It may be augmented by the use of civil charter aircraft. This is particularly important for the carriage of passengers and outsized cargo. Air transport is a national responsibility. Tactical air transport provides the intra-theatre movement and delivery of personnel and equipment.
Within these categories, air transport aircraft can perform the following types of operations:
a. Air Logistic Operations
Air Logistic Operations include those tasks, other than airborne missions, conducted to deploy, distribute and recover personnel, equipment, supplies and the extraction of non-combatants. Scheduled air transport services involving the programmed movement of aid, support personnel and supplies.
b. Airborne operations
These operations are involving the movement of combat forces and their logistic support to an objective. Air delivered combat power can be used to seize ground or installations that are vital to the opponent by delivering land forces directly onto the objective. This may be achieved by airdrop or airlanding delivery. Ports of entry, airfields, and key installations or structures, all offer potential objectives. Airborne operations should not be confused with air logistic operations. The significance of airborne operations may be operational or strategic within the joint campaign plan. They pose high risks, but the potential gains make them a valuable element of the air power inventory.
c. Aeromedical and Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO)
Aeromedical Evacuation is the movement of patients to and between medical treatment facilities by air transportation under medical supervision.
d. Special Air Operations (SAO)
SAO support special operations and may be conducted during peace, crisis and conflict. SAO activities may include both combat and noncombat tasks involving the deployment, infiltration, support, exfiltration and withdrawal of Special Forces. SAO may be conducted in conjunction with other joint operations or may be autonomous. Often, SAO must be carried out regardless of the overall combat conditions, and under air situations not normally considered suitable for other air operations.
The specialised nature of SAO, and the abrasive and challenging environment in which operations are usually conducted, require employment concepts, organisations, training methods, aircraft and equipment tailored to each situation. Assets. Fixed-wing and rotary-wing assets may be used for SAO. Most aircraft conducting SAO are of a specific design or modification to meet the demands of a special force operation.
CRO activities encompass a broad range of military operations and support a variety of purposes including supporting national objectives, deterring war, supporting PSO, maintaining national influence and supporting the civil power. These objectives are achieved by providing military forces to accomplish a wide range of missions, military operations other than warfighting (MOOTW). CRO tasks can take place in peace through conflict to post-conflict. Air operations will sometimes play a key role. NATO forces may undertake the following tasks:
a PSO, which includes Peacekeeping (PK), Peace Enforcement (PE), as well as conflict prevention, peace making, peace building and humanitarian relief.
b Humanitarian Operations (as an independent task).
c Disaster Relief.
d. Search and Rescue Operations (SAR).
e. Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations (NEO) – permissive and nonpermissive.
f. Military Aid/Support to Civil Authorities.
g. Enforcement of Sanctions.
Air Transport operations during CRO
AT operations will always be a fundamental part of CRO. They offer a high profile demonstration of political commitment that attracts significant media attention. Strategic AT can quickly move large numbers of Allied troops and quantities of equipment into a crisis area. AT can also act as a tool for building trust and confidence. It has an important role to play in the movement of the key players in crisis, whether they are belligerents or their representatives, mediators, observers, members of aid agencies or other NGOs, security or inter-positional forces, or the media. It can also be used to bring medical, engineering or other expertise and „enabling elements” to a particular area in need of relief or support.
AT assets are particularly vulnerable. Threats may include sabotage, small arms, mortars and artillery to aircraft on the ground, and automatic weapons, Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) and SAMs to aircraft in flight. The necessity for self-defense aids will be dependent upon the theatre environment. Minimum time on the ground through the use of integral freight handling systems, short field performance to increase available landing sites and reduce vulnerability during approach and departure, and ability to operate at night and in poor weather, will all help to reduce vulnerability.
Military Transport Aircrafts
The C-5M Super Galaxy, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is the biggest military transport aircraft used by the US Air Force (USAF). It is an improved version of the C-5 Galaxy strategic airlifter and can take-off with a maximum weight of 381t, including a payload of 129,274kg
This tactical transport aircraft has a payload capacity of 19 t. It can carry 92 soldiers, or 6 pallets, or 2-3 HMMWVs, or a single M113 armored personnel carrier. Its stretched version, the C-130J-30 has a payload capacity of 20 t. It can carry 128 soldiers, or 8 pallets with cargo.
The Boeing C-17 Globemaster III is a workhorse of the USAF, flying regular strategic supply missions around the world. This airlifter has a payload capacity of 76.6 t. It can carry M1A2 Abrams tank, or three Stryker 8×8 armored vehicles, or three AH-64 Apache helicopters, or air-droppable platforms up to a weight of 49.8 t. It can also carry a mix of palletized cargo and vehicles. The C-17 can routinely operate from airfields previously denied to jet-powered transports. If required, it can operate from unpaved, unimproved runways.
Nr.1 Antonov An-124 (Russia)
The Antonov An-124 Ruslan (NATO designation Condor) is named after a legendary giant. It is broadly similar to the slightly smaller Lockheed C-5 Galaxy. Currently the An-124 is the world’s largest production military aircraft. Only the one-off Antonov An-225 is bigger. This aircraft has a maximum payload capacity of 150 t. The cargo hold of this strategic airlifter can carry virtually any load, including virtually all Russian armored combat vehicles, helicopters, and other oversized cargo.
The An-22 is the world’s largest turboprop aircraft. At the time of its introduction in 1965 it was the world’s largest aircraft. The An-22 was extensively used in major military airlifts of the Soviet Union. This aircraft has a payload capacity of 80 t. It can carry four BMD-2 airborne combat vehicles. This airlifter can operate from unprepared airfields. It can take-off and land on soft ground.
The Il-76 (NATO designation Candid) was the first Soviet four-jet heavy transport. Its production commenced in 1974. The Il-76 has a maximum payload capacity of 50 t. It was designed to deliver heavy vehicles and machinery to remote, poorly-serviced airfields. It can operate from short and unpaved runways. The Il-76 can cope with the worst weather conditions experienced in Siberia and Arctic regions.
The Kawasaki C-2 is a new Japan’s medium-range military transport. It became operational with Japan’s Air Self-Defense Forces (JASDF) in 2016. The Kawasaki C-2 can carry much more cargo than aircraft it replaces. It has a maximum payload capacity of 37.6 t. The older C-1 can carry only 10-12 t and C-130 Hercules – 19 t. The Kawasaki C-2 can carry around 120 troops, or 8 standard air cargo pallets or one UH-60J helicopter.
The Airbus A400M Atlas is an international project. This medium-range aircraft made its first flight in 2009. This airplane was ordered by 10 countries. Mayor operators will be Germany (60), France (50), Spain (27), United Kingdom (25) and Turkey (10). First production aircraft were delivered in 2013. The A400M has a maximum payload capacity of 37 t. It can carry two 8×8 armored vehicles. This military transport can take-off and land on soft semi-prepared airfields and requires relatively short runways. It was also design to operate with limited or no ground facilities.
The C-130J Super Hercules was developed by Lockheed Martin. It is the latest production version of the C-130 Hercules. This tactical transport aircraft has a payload capacity of 19 t. It can carry 92 soldiers, or 6 pallets, or 2-3 HMMWVs, or a single M113 armored personnel carrier. Its stretched version, the C-130J-30 has a payload capacity of 20 t. It can carry 128 soldiers, or 8 pallets with cargo.
Chinese Y-20 Aircraft
China’s transport planes will augment their capacity by 20 percent soon with the indigenously-developed WS-20 engine. Military sources have told South China Morning Post that China is testing “domestically designed engines for its military transport planes”. The WS-20 engine will replace the Russian Soloviev D-30 engines, which currently power the Y-20 planes built by the Xian Aircraft Industry Corporation. The source told SCMP that the WS-20 engine is designed to give the planes a bigger lift and longer range, and has been installed on one Y-20 for testing.
The biggest warplane in the PLA Air Force’s fleet has a range of 7,500km (4,660 miles) and a cargo capacity of 55 tons, but the manufacturers of the new engine have claimed that it would provide a capacity of 66 tonnes. The increased capacity would enable the Chinese aircraft to transport their most advanced tank, the 58-tonne 99A. Previously tanks had to be dismantled for transport and reassembled on arrival, said military analyst Song Zhongping.
So far, the Chinese military has been relying on Russian engines to power its jets as it struggled to produce high-quality engines for its warplanes. In Nov 2020, the much-awaited, domestically developed engines made their first public appearance when the Xi’an Aircraft Industry (Group) Company Ltd released a photo showing a turbofan engine with a high bypass ratio.
Military transport helicopters are used in places where the use of conventional aircraft is impossible. For example, the military transport helicopter is the primary transport asset of US Marines deploying from LHDs and LHA. The landing possibilities of helicopters are almost unlimited, and where landing is impossible, for example densely packed jungle, the ability of the helicopter to hover allows troops to deploy by abseiling and roping.
Transport helicopters are operated in assault, medium and heavy classes. Air assault helicopters are usually the smallest of the transport types, and designed to move an infantry squad or section and their equipment. Helicopters in the assault role are generally armed for self-protection both in transit and for suppression of the landing zone. This armament may be in the form of door gunners, or the modification of the helicopter with stub wings and pylons to carry missiles and rocket pods. For example, the Sikorsky S-70, fitted with the ESSM (External Stores Support System), and the Hip E variant of the Mil Mi-8 can carry as much disposable armament as some dedicated attack helicopters.
Medium transport helicopters are generally capable of moving up to a platoon of infantry, or transporting towed artillery or light vehicles either internally or as underslung roles. Unlike the assault helicopter they are usually not expected to land directly in a contested landing zone, but are used to reinforce and resupply landing zones taken by the initial assault wave. Examples include the unarmed versions of the Mil Mi-8, Super Puma, and CH-46 Sea Knight.
Heavy lift helicopters are the largest and most capable of the transport types, currently limited in service to the CH-53 Sea Stallion and related CH-53E Super Stallion, CH-47 Chinook, Mil Mi-26, and Aérospatiale Super Frelon. Capable of lifting up to 80 troops and moving small Armoured fighting vehicles (usually as slung loads but also internally), these helicopters operate in the tactical transport role in much the same way as small fixed wing turboprop air-lifters. The lower speed, range and increased fuel consumption of helicopters are more than compensated by their ability to operate virtually anywhere.
Military Transport Aircraft Market
The military transport aircraft market is anticipated to register a CAGR of over 0.5% during the forecast period, 2020 – 2025. There is growing defense spending in the Asia-Pacific and Middle Eastern regions.
The market is also driven by the need for replacement of the aging fleet of transport aircraft, as few countries have aircraft that have been operational for over 50 years. Countries, such as the United States, India, Russia, and the United Kingdom, are currently considering newer generation fixed-wing aircraft to replace its aging fleet or to expand its current fleet size. Growing defense budget allocation is likely to support the motive of the armed forces of these countries to purchase these new aircraft in the near future. In the past year, the United States launched a congressionally mandated study in order to determine the number of military transport aircraft they require for supporting future military operations in the country.
China and India play a major role in generating a huge demand for military aircraft in the region. Currently, both these countries are among the top five defense spending countries in the world. India is also considering to upgrade the Avro Hawker Siddeley HS748 fleet of transport aircraft. India also plans to replace a few aging transport aircraft with new C-295 aircraft. Over the years, China has successfully designed and developed its own heavy military transport aircraft Y-20. Recently, China Air Force received a batch consisting of five Y-20 aircraft. China is also expanding its special mission versions of Y-9 aircraft.
Likewise, Japan also has 17 V-22 Osprey aircraft on orders, which are expected to be delivered during the forecast period. New Zealand also plans to replace its aging fleet of C-130J aircraft with KC-390 aircraft in the next few years. Increasing orders are likely to propel the Asia-Pacific military transport aircraft market to grow at a rapid pace during the forecast period.
New aircraft programs, such as Ilyushin Il-112V, Xi’an Y-20, and Antonov An-188 can generate demand, as countries look for aircraft with advanced features.
The military transport aircraft market is highly competitive, and it is currently dominated by Airbus SE, as the company’s portfolio includes both fixed-wing and rotary military transport aircraft. Some of the other prominent players in the market are AVIC (China) and Rostec (Russia). The market for transport aircraft has the potential to grow steadily over the next decade, as several countries are looking to replace their aging fleet of transport aircraft. Players are competing based on their newer generation military transport aircraft. Some of the players, like AVIC, have also increased their production rate to meet the growing demand.
References and Resources also include:
Major Szabolcs Lőrinczy AIR TRANSPORT OPERATIONS AND ITS SUPPORT DURING CRISIS RESPOND OPERATIONS (CRO)