With increasing global instability, our nation’s ability to respond and adapt to evolving scenarios is more critical than ever.
The ability to effectively and efficiently meet our regional combatant commander’s requirements to deploy troops and supplies without interruption is a fundamental component of our nation’s national security, military readiness, and ability to project both humanitarian assistance and power.
A unique and significant part of our nation’s air mobility resources, especially when rapidly deploying troops and supplies, is the Department of Defense’s partnership with U.S. commercial airlines through the Civil Reserve Air Fleet program (CRAF).
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U.S. civil air carriers contract with the CRAF program to provide select aircraft for the deployment of personnel and resources when emergency airlift requirements exceed the capability of military aircraft.
These carriers volunteer their aircraft to the CRAF program, which today comprises more than 450 aircraft that are ready for deployment less than 48 hours after they are called into service.
Participating U.S. commercial airlines maintain a minimum commitment of 30 percent of their CRAF-capable passenger fleet and 15 percent of their CRAF-capable cargo fleet in support of CRAF-related activity. These planes are maintained by the airline and flown by airline employees when called into service.
As a naval aviator and commercial airline pilot, I have developed a profound appreciation for the important role that the U.S. civil air transport industry plays in our nation’s military preparedness.
From the Berlin Airlift to Operation Desert Shield and Operation Iraqi Freedom, U.S. commercial airlines have deployed their airplanes and resources on CRAF missions for decades.
The CRAF program represents a remarkable public-private partnership that has helped to advance American values, protect American national security interests, and support American aid and military efforts across the globe.
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However, this crucial partnership is threatened by subsidies undermining U.S. aviation transport trade agreements with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and State of Qatar. These subsidies are not only an exploitation of American trade policy that threatens an industry vital to the American economy, but they present a threat to U.S. national security and military readiness as well.
These subsidies are being used to finance rapid global expansion by the state-owned airlines of Qatar and the UAE with the aim of driving competitors, including U.S. airlines, out of international markets and off global long-haul routes.
It is these routes requiring long haul aircraft that allow for the support of our military readiness through the CRAF program. We cannot allow unfair trade practices by foreign governments to weaken our military readiness.
The negative impact of these foreign carrier subsidies and their impact on our national security is compounded with the reality that approximately 1,500 aviation jobs are lost for every route ceded or surrendered due to this subsidized competition.
These lost jobs represent not only the aircrew that fly these aircraft in times of crisis with CRAF, but also the maintenance workers and technicians, plus the ramp supervisors and dispatchers who ensure safe global operations.
President Donald Trump has clearly stated that free and fair reciprocal trade is an administration priority, as is ensuring our national security and military readiness. Our Department of State’s recent announcement that the State of Qatar has agreed to match American levels of financial transparency demonstrates the Trump Administration’s commitment to these priorities.
By enforcing our trade agreements, Trump is working to re-establish America’s economic power and improve our military readiness.
The president and his team brought Qatar to the table and reached a deal that, if adhered to, would put an end to Qatar’s trade cheating and level the playing field for American air carriers and their workers.
This would ensure the American companies can fairly compete in the international marketplace, and therefore protects the integrity of the CRAF program. By enforcing our trade agreements, Trump is working to re-establish America’s economic power and improve our military readiness.
The agreement with Qatar is an important first step in the right direction, but the full implications of this development will be more fully realized once the U.S. takes action in regard to the state-owned and state-subsidized airlines of the UAE, which continues to be less transparent and exhibit the same unfair trade practices.
The UAE has two massive state-subsidized airlines that, like Qatar Airways, undercut U.S. airlines in the international marketplace and threaten our military readiness. The recent success of negotiations with Qatar will hopefully influence ongoing discussions with UAE to ensure that Trump can keep America safe and to keep our global trade fair.
Vice Adm. John G. Cotton is a 35-year Navy veteran and last served as chief of Navy Reserve and commander of the Navy Reserve Force in the Pentagon. He is currently a defense and security consultant and a senior fellow at the Joint Forces Staff College.