Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

July 11, 2013 at 3:32pm

Air Mobility Command can save you money

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SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. — Analysts here took the spirit of "Every Dollar Counts" seriously - more than 395 million times over.

Improvements to the way intra-theater airlift is done in Afghanistan are saving taxpayers between $300 million and $398 million a year after a team of air transportation professionals found a way to realize gigantic savings, and fast.

The team of analysts from Air Mobility Command, U.S. Transportation Command and U.S. Central Command found stunning efficiencies by developing better predictive models that reduce the need for commercial aircraft to augment U.S. military planes.

Here's what they were dealing with.

To augment limited military airlift capacity, what's called the Theater Express program has been paying commercial companies to airlift supplies and equipment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom on a daily basis. Each day, commercial carriers will bid on the rights to move the cargo. The carrier providing the "best value" - low cost and best past performance - is awarded that day's cargo.

To realize the huge cost savings, the team had an idea. First, the team researched and updated military airlift cost data, which previously were based on oftentimes more expensive operations in Iraq. Better numbers allowed them to then take the next step and build a simulation model to predict military aircraft cargo space availability up to five days in advance. This simulation model now allows aerial ports in Afghanistan to use cargo room on military C-17s and C-130s when it is more cost effective to do so, rather than having to pay commercial carriers.

These changes "allowed us to have a more accurate estimate of military airlift costs and increased the amount of cargo transported by regularly-scheduled military aircraft without sacrificing effectiveness," said Donald Anderson, assistant director of analysis for Headquarters AMC. "The increased visibility of costs-per-route also drove down average commercial bids by 50 percent or more."

The Theater Express program was launched in 2006 to allow commercial airlift companies to help reduce the number of ground convoys because convoys were always at risk of insurgent attacks. More cargo flown meant fewer soldiers on the road.

"At its peak in 2012, 45 percent of all CENTCOM cargo was moving by Theater Express program at a cost of more than $400 million annually. We now project the cost to be about $2 million a year, due to efficiency initiatives identified and implemented by the improvement team," said Anderson.

"The Theater Express is a great program that balances efficiency with effectiveness," said Col. Dennis King, Air Forces Central Air Mobility Division chief. "When the demand for retrograde increases, we capitalize on efficiency by tasking the lowest-bid [commercial] carrier with eligible cargo, freeing our [military] airlift assets for priority cargo not qualified for Theater Express commercial bidding."

King said balancing the allocation of cargo between military and commercial aircraft enables Air Forces Central Command and AMC to meet presidentially-mandated timelines to complete the withdrawal of U.S forces from Afghanistan in 2014.

The Theater Express airlift improvement team included more than 20 people from the theater's Air Mobility Division, CENTCOM's Deployment and Distribution Operation Center, and the Joint Distribution Process Analysis Center, comprising AMC and TRANSCOM analysts.

Written by Roger Drinnon with Air Mobility Command Public Affairs.

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