A Critical Capability in Natural Disasters: Military Air Transportation - savunmaanaliz

A Critical Capability in Natural Disasters: Military Air Transportation

A devastating earthquake of 7.8 on the Richter scale hit Southern Türkiye in the early hours of 6th February. According to the latest statement of AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency), 45,089 people lost their lives. 115,000 people were injured. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods require crisis management. One of the valuable abilities that crisis managers possess is military air transportation. This ability provides a wide range of opportunities; from reconnaissance, surveillance, and telecommunication to aerial firefighting. Civil aviation air transport capability is as important as military air transportation capability in natural disasters. However, the need for military air transportation is especially critical in the first hours of natural disasters. Because most military aircraft have propeller-driven engines, overhead wings, superior platform performance, loading/unloading, and airdrop capabilities. They do not require ground crew support and have highly trained flight crews.

Highly Trained Flight Crews :

Military flight crews, which are kept at a high state of readiness, possess many tactical capabilities that enable them to reach the most remote locations during natural disasters. Military transport aircraft take off and land on short fields, temporary landing zones, or semi-prepared runways. In addition to aircraft, military helicopters can land in all types of terrain, even in bad weather conditions. The training level of military flight crews is very high in this regard. For instance, the Turkish C-130 team was chosen as the “Best C-130/C-160 Short-field Landing Team” during the biennial, international airlift competition (Rodeo 2000). In subsequent years, flight crews also achieved many successes in Europe (European Tactical Air Meet-ETAM) as well as in the USA.

Best C-130/C-160 Short-field Landing Team

Military Air Transportation in Natural Disasters:

One of the most effective uses of military airpower during peacetime is air transportation. Military air transportation offers capabilities that cannot be replaced in times of crisis, such as earthquakes and floods. Its most obvious distinguishing ability is speed, which enables the saving of thousands of lives in critical first 48 hours. Air transportation provides quick access to areas that are difficult or risky to reach by land or sea, for urgent needs such as food, drink, relief supplies, equipment, medical supplies, search and rescue, and health personnel. In the picture below, an A400M transport aircraft landing on a semi-prepared runway is carrying the necessary supplies. It is impossible for a jet-engine airplane with lower wings to land on such a runway.

A400M Landing Personnel and Supplies on Semi-Prepared Runway

Military air transportation consists of aircraft such as A400M, C-130, An-124, and CN-235, helicopters such as CH-47, Mi-17, UH-60, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Military transport aircraft are different from civilian aircraft in that they are upper-winged and have mostly propeller engines, allowing them to land on short or semi-prepared runways. They can perform their tasks without requiring ground support and can drop relief supplies from high altitudes or at very low altitudes. Helicopters can quickly reach the disaster zone and land anywhere, day or night, and provide assistance. They can transport medical teams, supplies, equipment, and evacuate injured people quickly and safely. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) can also be used to gather information to provide situational awareness and monitor affected areas. Now let’s take a closer look at these life-saving duties in natural disasters.

C-130 Transport Aircraft Flying Aid To A Disaster Area on Tactical Formation

Personnel Transport during Natural Disasters:

The transport capability that airlift supplies is vital since it provides the flexibility to get personnel to the point of a disaster area with minimum delay. Search and Rescue teams, medical personnel, media, humanitarian aid teams, and government officials can reach the region quickly and safely with military air transport platforms. In addition, returning aircraft can be used to evacuate victims or transfer them to safe areas. In cases where the roads are fragmented and access is impossible, military aircraft can land in predetermined and controlled areas. If necessary, trained personnel can be dropped from high altitudes. Airland delivery, as opposed to airdrop, is the preferred method of delivery when conditions permit because it is the more efficient, safer, and less expensive way to deliver personnel and cargo. All rotary wing platforms, especially helicopters such as the CH-47, can serve point-to-point in disaster areas. All airlift capacity must be used according to the conditions in the disaster area.

A C-130 Transport Aircraft Transporting Disaster Victims and Injured

Material Transport During Natural Disasters:

During moments of crisis where time is of the essence, air transportation platforms play a significant role in transporting all kinds of necessary materials to the disaster zone. They can quickly and safely deliver urgent materials such as medicine, food, drinks, blankets, tents, water filters, portable toilets, and more. If there is no place to land in the area, they can drop or release these materials from low altitudes. Preparing and marking drop zones, including them in the disaster plans, as well as providing necessary training, can significantly reduce the reaction time during a disaster.

A CH-47 loaded with aid supplies to be transported to the disaster area Courtesy Gazette Rize

Medevac and Casevac During Natural Disasters:

There are two main types of medical evacuations: medevac and casevac. Both involve transporting patients to safety but differ in one fundamental respect. A medevac is used when the patient needs immediate medical attention that can only be provided at a hospital. Medevac involves transporting a patient or injured person to the most appropriate healthcare facility as quickly as possible, with immediate medical intervention and ongoing treatment during transportation. Medevac is carried out by ambulance aircraft or helicopters. Casevac, on the other hand, involves transporting patients via air who do not require urgent care but need to be taken away from the disaster area and monitored, at a hospital or at a safe place. Air transport aircraft also provide flexible support through airdrop and air-land operations delivering medical care. Whenever possible, aircraft designated for medevac/casevac should display the Red Crescent emblem. The mission of the aircraft with the Red Crescent emblem should be entered into the flight plan. These aircraft have priority in air traffic.

Fully equipped CN-235 Ambulance Aircraft, ready for use in natural disasters

Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Communication during Natural Disasters:

Aircraft such as P-72 can be used to determine damage and needs in the disaster area, coordinate aid and rescue efforts, and provide the real-time information needed by the crisis management center. If necessary, subject matter experts, public officials, faculty members, and municipal officials can also board these aircraft to provide decision-makers with the more detailed information they need.

P-72 / ATR-72 Maritime Patrol Aircraft that can be used for reconnaissance, surveillance, and communication during natural disasters

Air transport aircraft have been used as communication relay stations for a long time. In addition to this task, especially UAVs and balloons can be used as mobile communication and internet service providers in disaster areas. In 2017, after the damage caused by Hurricane Maria, the communication infrastructure collapsed in Puerto Rico. A network called “Loonet” was created with the project called “Project Loon” to provide internet access to hundreds of thousands of people. Balloons were positioned to cover a wide area, and disaster victims were able to connect to the internet through the balloons. Later, the Loon project was implemented in other countries and used as an alternative option to provide mobile communication infrastructure for emergencies. A similar approach can be provided with UAVs. The abandoned Turkcell “dronecell” project is also an important project in this context. The need for platforms may increase depending on the size of the disaster area. It may be necessary to increase the duration of flight times. Bandwidth adjustments and application limitations may be required. Air transportation platforms can be a solution for uninterrupted communication, which is one of the most critical capabilities in crisis management.

Aerial Firefighting During Natural Disasters:

Fires can break out in critical facilities during natural disasters. Given that the local fire department may also be affected by the same disaster, the ability to extinguish fires from outside the disaster area is of critical importance. Civil firefighting aircraft and helicopters can be used for this purpose, but most of these platforms can only fly during daylight and with visual flight rules. However, a C-130 aircraft equipped with MAFFS with night vision capability can perform this task at night. Military transport aircraft have also been used in firefighting missions in the past. During the Tüpraş refinery fire that broke out in the 1999 Izmit earthquake, C-130 aircraft were very effective. It is very important to determine in advance which mixture will be used for a specific fire type. Just dropping water from aircraft may not always be a solution. Although the government organizations were caught unprepared for the Tüpraş fire, the chemical substance that would be effective against the oil fire was quickly transported from Atatürk, Esenboğa, and İncirlik air bases to Yenişehir air base. The appropriate mixture was prepared and the fire was intervened most quickly and effectively. Flights were conducted below the refinery chimney levels to ensure that the mixture would reach the ground without evaporating.

C-130 transport aircraft flying below the refinery chimney level to extinguish the Tüpraş fire.


Military air transportation can quickly deliver materials, equipment, and personnel needed during natural disasters, especially in the critical first 48 hours. Therefore, it is a unique and ready capability that must be used to overcome the initial shock and help heal wounds. In addition to its traditional tasks, military air transportation also provides situational awareness capabilities, such as reconnaissance, surveillance, and communication, which can facilitate decision-making for crisis management. Developing military air transport strategies, increasing capacity, and conducting planning, training, and exercises are essential to effectively combat disasters. Although this article only addresses military air transportation platforms, it does not ignore the importance of civilian air transportation platforms. However, it emphasizes that military platforms will play a much more critical role in the first critical hours.

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