Whether to Fly or Ship Vehicles for the Army: The virtues of sealift vs. airlift

 The Pentagon's request to Congress for $750M in 'emergency funding' to move Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) by air for use by U.S. Armed Forces in Iraq (detailed here) is an example of really 'loopy logic' when it comes to logistical planning.

At a cost of $135K/vehicle, the amount requested will move 5,555 vehicles by air, more than the 3,500 than the article said would be delivered by the end of 2007. For the sake of comparison, the cost of moving the vehicles by sea ($18K/vehicle, which I think is very high) would allow 41,666 vehicles to be moved for the $750M, or it would cost only $63M to move the 3,500 vehicles that are to be in Iraq by the end of this year.

The article says that the flying time to Iraq is 13 hours, but since there is not an unlimited number of C-17 transport aircraft (or other types), the total round-trip time of 26 hours must be used to calculate the carrying time for the vehicles. At that rate, it would take one C-17 1,166 roundtrips to deliver all 3,500 vehicles, not allowing for unloading time, crew rest, maintenance, fuelling, or any other such factors. That means that the simple flying time will be 30,333 hours, or 1,237 days.

Since there are only 122 days left in the year (counting from 01 Sept), it would require the full-time services of 11 C-17s to fly the 3,500 vehicles to Iraq before the end of 2007. Meanwhile, two 30,000-ton RO-RO (Roll on Roll off) ships could have ALL of the vehicles in Iraq before the end of September, saving hundreds of millions of dollars in the process!

Canada has been guilty of this same 'loopy logic' and has been wasting money needlessly on air charters to move heavy objects that can be moved more cheaply and efficiently and, in the end analysis, faster by sea. Now that we will be getting our own C-17s and are in the process of chartering a sealift ship, some common sense logic needs to be applied to the priorities being assigned to moving cargoes. If not, these aircraft will be worn our in short order and the budgetary requirements for the CF will the thrown into chaos.

If there is a bona fide urgent requirement for heavy transport by air, by all means use it. But by the time the first ship arrives in two to three weeks, the demand that caused the emergency will be satisfied and valuable resources can be saved for other real emergency needs.