Photo Information

A UC-35 sits in Marine Transport Squadron 1’s hangar on Cherry Point April 17. The Marine Corps uses commercial aircraft to quickly move important gear and personnel where they are needed.

Photo by Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki

Operational Support Airlift carries high-priority assets

3 May 2013 | Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki

Headquarters Marine Corps released Marine Corps Warfighting Publication 3-27 Operational Support Airlift earlier this year, outlining an unsung capability utilized by the Marine Corps to get personnel and gear to where they’re needed. Operational support airlift uses commercial aircraft to carry out missions in low threat regions where tactical aircraft are inefficient and unnecessary.

Operational support airlift assets provide a lift capacity more efficient for small loads and few passengers that are absolutely crucial for operations.

“Sometimes people think of OSA aircraft as ‘jets for generals’ but that’s not really the case,” said Maj. Tim Wernimont, an operational support airlift pilot with Marine Transport Squadron 1. “Sometimes high-ranking officers and senior enlisted are the highest priority to get them from point A to B to see the Marines and what’s going on, but there are a lot of cases where we’re utilized for other things like moving high-priority parts to help get aircraft fixed or high-priority movement for getting somebody out of theater or home for emergency leave.”

For example, immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all civilian aircraft were grounded to prevent further potential threats. Some fighter pilots, senior leaders and other key personnel found themselves stranded away from their posts without civilian air transportation available. Marine transport aircraft were immediately dispatched to carry mission-critical personnel to their stations to take part in securing America’s skies.

Within the continental United States, operational support airlift is coordinated for domestic training and operations by the Joint Operational Support Airlift Center under Air Force leadership. Marine operational airlift assets are part of headquarters squadrons at every Marine Corps air station and conduct missions both domestically and abroad.

“We try to focus our lift and our support toward the Marine Corps and we can do that when working with JOSAC,” said Wernimont. “But sometimes JOSAC has the bigger picture of the United States and they realize our aircraft can support an Army or an Air Force unit with a specific lift and do it more efficiently.”

The capability offers other advantages as well. Operational support airlift aircraft are usually commercial aircraft operated by the military. Commercial model aircraft maintain a lower profile at foreign airports, which is good for operational security. They are also cheaper to maintain than their tactical counterparts. By supporting aviation logistics missions in areas where there is minimal danger of enemy engagement, they also free up tactical aircraft for missions in direct support of combat operations.

While they don’t directly engage the enemy, the Marine Corps has taken steps to bring the benefit of operational support airlift to the war zone. Some aircraft are specially outfitted with aircraft survivability equipment, including missile-detecting sensors and flares.

Historically, transport assets have made their presence felt in major operations. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, a detachment stationed at Bahrain International Airport flew more than 1,200 flight hours, carried more than 1,800 passengers and nearly 60,000 pounds of cargo. Marines continue to perform these tasks in Afghanistan. Wernimont and a detachment of Marine Transport Squadron 1 plan to deploy to Central Command.

“The UC-35 that I’m flying is going to deploy to Qatar for six months,” said Wernimont. “It’s an ongoing mission that we’ve been doing, swapping off with the reserves in Miramar. We’ll be flying in support of U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility, moving Marines, personnel and gear between the Horn of Africa and Afghanistan and wherever else high-priority personnel and gear need to go within Central Command’s area of responsibility.”

Marines have carried out operational support airlift missions since 1927 and continue to provide quick transit for important personnel and gear during operations and crises the world over.
Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point