We were discussing earlier this week the UK’s capacity to move personnel in and out of Afghanistan, whether the hub and spoke arrangement currently used with a mixture of RAF aircraft equipped with suitable DAS and civilian charters is necessarily the most efficient.
This is a complex subject, the sheer volume of equipment and personnel moving back and forth is vast.
This recent video from BFBS describes 2,000 personnel moves per week during changeover periods.
Getting personnel as close as possible to Afghanistan using civilian charter aircraft allows the C130’s and C17’s that are suitably equipped with the necessary defensive equipment to complete the shorter journey into Afghanistan. Other locations are also used in addition to Cyprus.
One problem of this approach is the extra personnel required in places like Cyprus to handle the ‘hop off one, hop another’ process, additional delays and of course using C17 and other tactical aircraft means they are not available for in theatre moves or for other operations. The C17 is an especially expensive aircraft to run and when carrying out routine moves of personnel is hardly making the best use of its outsize and high weight payload capacity that we pay handsomely for. The threat environment will change and not open for discussion so a tactical aircraft might be the only safe option and we, therefore, have to accept this but the basic lack of suitable aircraft would seem to mean that we are forced to use what we have, maybe not necessarily what is the most efficient.
Of course, it is what we have and is the issue of efficiency is somewhat moot.
The elderly but DAS equipped Tristar, struggles with availability, and it is only the continuing efforts of the maintainers that are keeping it as a viable option but the FSTA programme will provide a much more reliable option. However, there remains uncertainty about how many aircraft will be fitted with appropriate DAS even though those that need them will have them fitted.
Will FSTA actually improve the efficiency of a typical movement by flying direct from the UK to the theatre or will the shiny new A330 Voyagers still be operating in the hub and spoke arrangement with tactical aircraft like C17’s (and/or in the future, A400) because of a lack of defensive systems?