Pound Foolish

The Defense Department doesn’t give enough weight to the worst-case scenarios affecting aerial tanker requirements, Rebecca Grant, director of the Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies, said yesterday. She spoke at a forum in Arlington, Va., (see above) on the new Mitchell paper, The Tanker Imperative, which argues that the US is “playing with fire” by delaying tanker recapitalization. Grant said the Pentagon wants to have an “efficient” tanker fleet, but that’s not always possible, or even desirable. “Efficiency is a luxury commanders cannot afford” in tankers, since they must have refueling aircraft at diverse locations and standing by to support any and all prospective operations or contingencies, she said. The need for tankers has also been routinely under-counted, Grant asserted, concentrating on overseas contingencies and frequently leaving out the demand for tankers supporting the homeland defense mission. The Pentagon also needs to note that tanker operations, especially when supporting fighters in combat, aren’t spread evenly around the clock, but peak in daytime and ebb at night, because the enemy is routinely more active during the day. Planning should account for max-use and worst-case requirements, not notional averages that don’t match real-world usage, she said. “The tanker force is not sized for efficiency,” nor should it be, Grant argued. “Under any scenario, you’re looking at a lot of tankers,” she noted, adding that, “They are the major ‘stresser,’” or limiter, of airpower.