Hub and Spoke

We were discussing earlier this week the UK’s capacity to move personnel in and out ouf 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 or 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 aproach 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 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 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?

15 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brian Black
Brian Black
October 27, 2011 7:29 am

Has the RAF received its first A330 yet? Was due before the end of this year.

They were all always intended to be fitted with DAS. There is also the issue of fuel tank inerting though, following the loss of the C-130 in Iraq. All airlift aircraft were slated to receive FTI modifications at some considerable cost, though I don’t think anything has been done with the Tristars. It’s not clear whether the A330 will now come with FTI mods done, or if they’re planned after introduction.

Mark
Mark
October 27, 2011 7:56 am

FTI gas systems are fitted as standard on commercial airlines now following the twa crash out of JFK several years ago. The military one slightly different. Perhaps addition of kevlar lining of the wing a la concorde would be all thats required above normal. I do believe they will have a similar das system to tristar but probably only on the 7 permanent a/c. Direct is always more efficient and is why the latest commercial long haul twins are proving popular. I would love to know what level of task qualifies for the additional 5 a/c to be made available or we lose one who pays for it’s replacement. If you consider maintenance training qra Falklands requirement even if only 1 a/c assigned to each were down to 5 for all other tasking. 8 a330 and 8 a400m refuelling kits would be better balance

Brian Black
Brian Black
October 27, 2011 11:17 am

Hi, Mark.

I believe the MoD is liable for aircraft lost as a result of operational use.

From reading various articles by people who appear to have some relevant knowledge, it seems that up to ten A330 will be needed to cover routine tasking.

The latest in a long series entitled ‘what I reckon’ – I reckon we would have been better off with a two way split; buying a minimum fleet of these to cover much of the regular work, and having a private provider hold only those needed for long term flexibility and operational surges.

The PFI would also probably have been a better deal if we had one or a few international partners. With a little foresight we could have teamed up with close allies, such as France or Australia, and shared a fleet of ‘spare’ privately owned A330 alongside our own Air Force owned fleets.

Fluffy Thoughts
Fluffy Thoughts
October 27, 2011 4:36 pm

Just think: If twernt’ for A-400M and it’s many failings we’ed probably have a bloated Herkie-bird that could not lift either kit or the right amount of troop-numbers. Well done EADS and thank-you Boeing: Now all we need is Osborne to put up some cash and Hammond {who’s he?] to order a few more…! *

* Switches back to fantasy, ship-bucket mode…!

SomewhatRemoved
October 27, 2011 5:17 pm

It’s not just defensive aid suites but also the need to operate from rough airstrips. We’ve been in Afghan so long we have a decent runway now, but future ops might not be so accommodating. When Iraq was still running the UK used tactical airlifters (C130) to run a ’round-robin’ service into a variety of locations all based on a hub in Abu Dhabi, so I would argue it makes sense to keep the same arrangement. Plus heavy cargo needed to be onloaded and offloaded quickly on that trip and civair may not be ideally suited for that compared to a tactical airlifter with rear ramp and cargo floor. Let the civair do what it does best and haul people and stuff long distance into low threat hubs. Hub and spoke might not be the best solution for Afghan now, but the model works for future ops.

I’m also aware of the clause in the Voyager contract that stated that AirTanker would be the sole provider of AAR in the UK Armed Forces. So we are in violation of contract if we fit and operate any other AAR system, such as F35 with tanks buddy refuelling from a carrier, or a C130 refuelling Chinook or other helos as the US do. Not that it’s a problem now, but a bit of a stupid clause nonetheless. Read the MOD page on Voyager – you’d think it was a roaring success!!

http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/FactSheets/ProjectFactsheets/FutureStrategicTankerAircraftfsta.htm

Mark
Mark
October 27, 2011 6:37 pm

First action is usually to secure a port or runway.Ali Al Salem, Bagram, Basra Baghdad even bengasi. If you can operate fastjets in the deployed location you can operate a330. These locations will almost always require DAS equipped a/c now. Is it better to move 300 people into these locations using a single a330 or 3 c17/a400m. Moving to FOBs has more option than just fixed wing a/c. These ops have big fatigue issues for fixed wing a/c. The speed from ordering the a/c to actually getting them has been quite gd for the mod the way theyve bought them is barking.

Gabriele
Gabriele
October 27, 2011 6:41 pm

“I’m also aware of the clause in the Voyager contract that stated that AirTanker would be the sole provider of AAR in the UK Armed Forces. So we are in violation of contract if we fit and operate any other AAR system, such as F35 with tanks buddy refuelling from a carrier, or a C130 refuelling Chinook or other helos as the US do.”

Are we sure this clause exists at all? I can’t find it anywhere.

The NAO FSTA report has no indication at all of the “uniqueness” of FSTA in air refuelling, but rather a quite different clause, about personnel transport:

“Ordinarily, the expectation is that the Department will use FSTA rather than chartering commercial aircraft. With a limited number of exceptions, [not specified in number or nature in the document] if the department chooses to use charter aircraft it would have to pay AirTanker additional payments of, for example, 8000 pounds per flight and 300 pounds per hour (subject to indexation).”

http://www.nao.org.uk/publications/0910/tanker_aircraft.aspx

FSTA’s exclusivity seems to actually be about carrying personnel, it would appear, (as i really don’t know anything about chartered AAR services anywhere in the world as of now, other than FSTA itself…) perhaps with one exception being (i would hope) the Falklands link and another being (again, i hope for Christ’s sake) the chartering of planes IN ADDITION to FSTA. (Seen Afghanistan, FSTA is nowhere enough for sustaining a similar operation abroad).

There’s no mention of restrictions at all to the usage of other means of AAR in the military.

So, i’d like to see from where this “AAR exclusivity” thing comes. I suspect it does not exist, and comes from a misunderstanding.
Any source to try and solve the mystery…?

Mark
Mark
October 27, 2011 7:18 pm
Gabriele
Gabriele
October 27, 2011 8:14 pm

Interesting service. I honestly didn’t know about them. Still, i do not think the “charter airplanes” they had in mind in the FSTA contract are these ones.

were
were
October 28, 2011 7:52 am

I imagine FSTA exclusivity would apply to both aerial refueling and personnel. Exclusivity clauses are routine in commercial settings. If I were AirTanker, I’d get some Il-76s and sell the capacity to the RAF.

Gabriele
Gabriele
October 28, 2011 5:26 pm

“I imagine FSTA exclusivity would apply to both aerial refueling”

There is absolutely no evidence of this.
The only Exclusivity clause, which i have reported above, also talks of charter aircraft anyway. I don’t think the RAF ever chartered AAR services.
And proprietary RAF A400 Atlas or proprietary F35Cs are not “charter aircrafts”.
The issues with them, basing my judgment on the documents available, are absolutely non-existent.

x
x
October 28, 2011 7:19 pm

Perhaps one of us Brits should ask our MP to ask a question on AAR exclusivity at Defence Questions?

Gabriele
Gabriele
October 28, 2011 8:48 pm

Could be an idea. For now, i gathered up this info on FSTA from the NAO FSTA report and other sources:

http://ukarmedforcescommentary.blogspot.com/2011/10/future-strategic-tanker-aircraft-inside.html

A Stephens
A Stephens
April 22, 2012 9:24 am

I’m a little late in finding this discussion, but in follow-up to Gabriele’s statement:

“I don’t think the RAF ever chartered AAR services.”

Yes, the RAF has and does charter AAR services from Omega Air, particularly when depolying to CONUS for exercises. Makes sense, since the Omega fleet is US-based and therefore AAR in-flight times are reduced.