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U.S. Air Force Mobility Air Forces 101

Caroline Amenabar / CSIS
The United States Air Force’s Mobility Air Forces (MAF) enterprise provides global reach for the U.S. military; setting the U.S. military apart from those of other nations and giving national leaders options to project hard and soft power at any location on the globe at any time. Mission areas underpinning these capabilities include airlift, aerial refueling, and aeromedical evacuation. Mobility aircraft performing these global missions include inter-theater airlifters, intra-theater airlifters, air refueling tankers, and an operational/executive support fleet of transport aircraft. Air mobility operations are executed through a system of fixed en-route and contingency response infrastructure and equipment located at numerous U.S. and allied operating locations around the world.

Inter-theater Airlift Aircraft

Airlift is the utilization of USAF aircraft to transport personnel and cargo between two locations. To complete their mission, airlift aircraft can either land and off-load cargo and personnel, or deliver them via in-flight airdrop to a desired location. Intertheater airlift is the ability to deliver assets over trans-continental distances, which can be further lengthened by in-flight air refueling. With most American military forces based in the continental U.S., intertheater airlift is vital to conduct rapid deployment operations over global distances.

Intra-theater Airlift Aircraft

Airlift is the utilization of USAF aircraft to transport personnel and cargo between two locations. To complete their mission, airlift aircraft can either land and off-load cargo and personnel, or deliver them via in-flight airdrop to a desired location. Intratheater airlift is the utilization of USAF aircraft to provide small to medium lift capabilities in direct support of tactical requirements at what can be considered regional distances. This capability enables the U.S. military to quickly move forces throughout an area-of-responsibility in support of U.S. objectives, and is often used for direct force delivery, sustainment, aeromedical evacuation, and humanitarian support missions.

Airlift Refueling Aircraft

The U.S. Air Force’s ability to execute rapid global mobility provides national leaders the ability to project hard and soft power at any time, to any location on the globe, and sets the United States military apart from other national militaries. This capability is underpinned by USAF air refueling aircraft, which transport vast quantities of fuel that is off-loaded to other U.S. and coalition aircraft in-flight. Air refueling can be used to increase receiver aircraft payload and station duration for persistent operations in a specified area, or to extend the range of strike, Intelligence/Surveillance/Reconnaissance, and airlift aircraft, allowing them to deliver desired effects anywhere on earth in a matter of hours.

Operational/Executive Support Aircraft

The U.S. Air Force is also responsible for providing transportation for high-ranking officials from the government and Department of Defense, including the President and Vice President of the United States of America.

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