Airlift - Tactical Airlift

Tactical Airlift

Tactical airlift is a military term for the airborne transportation of supplies and equipment within a theatre of operations (in contrast to strategic airlift). Aircraft which perform this role are referred to as tactical airlifters. These are typically turboprop aircraft, and feature short landing and take-off distances and low-pressure tires allowing operations from small or poorly-prepared airstrips. While they lack the speed and range of strategic airlifters (which are typically jet-powered), these capabilities are invaluable within war zones. Larger helicopters such as the CH-47 Chinook and Mil Mi-26 can also be used to airlift men and equipment. Helicopters have the advantage that they do not require a landing strip and that equipment can often be suspended below the aircraft allowing it to be delivered without landing but are highly inefficient.

Tactical airlift aircraft are designed to be maneuverable, allowing low-altitude flight to avoid detection by radar and for the airdropping of supplies. Most are fitted with defensive aids systems to protect them from attack by surface-to-air missiles.

The earliest Soviet tactical airlift occurred in 1929, in which forty men of the Red Army were airlifted to the town of Garm, Tajikistan (then the Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic) to repel an attacking force of Basmachi rebels under Fuzail Maksum.

Examples of tactical airlifters include:

  • Airbus A400M (Under Development.)
  • Antonov An-12 'Cub'
  • / Antonov An-70
  • Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
  • / CASA CN-235
  • EADS CASA C-295
  • / Lockheed Martin/Alenia C-27 Spartan
  • Lockheed Martin C-130 Hercules
  • / Transall C-160
  • Kawasaki C-X (Under Development.)
  • Shaanxi Y-9
  • Embraer KC-390 (Under Development.)
  • / Indo-Russian Transport Aircraft (Under Development.)
  • Lockheed C-141 Starlifter

Note: The Airbus Military A400M, a tactical airlifter, blurs the line between tactical and strategic transports. Airbus stresses its tactical performance but also its strategic capabilities; higher payload, higher range and higher speed than the Hercules, although not as high as the C-17. The table below demonstrates this status, the A-400 occupying a "middle ground" between the C-130 and the C-17.

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