Civilian Airline Mobilization
Comes With Legal Baggage

By Ralph Omholt
Soldiers For The Truth

For the first time since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, the Defense Department has activated the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF), calling up 47 passenger aircraft available to the Pentagon from participating airlines under the program.
In announcing the aircraft activation on Feb. 8, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld noted that the "Stage I" call-up also enables DoD to obtain the use of 31 wide-bodied cargo aircraft, but this has been deferred for the time being.
The CRAF program operates as a standby military aircraft fleet under the U.S. Transportation Command based at Scott AFB, Ill. The program allows the military to draw from hundreds of civilian aircraft from 22 participating airlines which are contractually committed, along with their crews, to supplement the regular military airlift capability.
The reserve fleet concept was established in 1951, but was not used until 1991 to ferry American military troops and equipment to the Persian Gulf region and back. DoD provides incentives to participating airlines by awarding them peacetime airlift contracts.
While airlines routinely market their aircraft for charter flights, the CRAF program amounts to a "draft notice" for the aircraft and a minimum crew complement per aircraft. The CRAF missions are directed by the Air Mobility Command. The CRAF activation serves as a significant profit potential to the airlines, given the greater utilization of their assets both in peacetime and during military deployments.
But as I will explain in detail later, the CRAF call-up does not come without a potential threat to the civilian airlines and their employees.
The current Stage I phase is designated is the lowest of three levels of CRAF mobilization. A "Stage II" activation is designed to support a major regional conflict such as Operation Desert Storm, where a total of 158 CRAF aircraft were ultimately called up. A "Stage 3" activation, which has never occurred, would involve a full-fledged national mobilization of civilian airline assets.
The named passenger carriers participating in the current CRAF program include American Airlines, American Trans Air, Continental Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, North American Airlines, Northwest Airlines, Omni Air International, United Airlines, U.S. Airways and World Airways. The cargo carriers include Airborne Express, Air Transport International, Arrow Air, Atlas Air, DHL Airways, Evergreen International Airlines, FedEx Airlines, Gemini Air Cargo, Northwest Airlines, Omni Air International, Polar Air Cargo, Southern Air, UPS Airlines and World Airways. The list includes a few curious names such as North American Airlines - appearing to be a Canadian company; and the usual names associated with CIA arms-length ownership.
This is the dilemma confronting both the Pentagon and the civilian airline companies participating in the CRAF program: While the use of civilian assets would strike most people as a sensible and efficient use of resources, it also raises the potential that the civilian aircrews and their unarmed aircraft could be considered legitimate military targets - because of tactics previously employed by the U.S. military itself.
During the U.S. operations against Serbia during the 1990s, the issue of attacking "dual-use" targets - organizations and buildings that had both military and civilian functions - first emerged. The United States actually targeted "enemy" civilian facilities, deemed to be of service to the military, such as commercial broadcast facilities.
Disregarding the military convenience of re-packaging the traditional civilian-staffed infrastructure, the designation of "dual-use" violates two major tenets of the Geneva Conventions; deliberate civilian targeting (by reciprocity) and the effective employment of 'human shields.'
Consider the CRAF program in light of some of the denunciations that the U.S. government has made toward Iraq, and the following dilemmas emerge:
1. The "dual-use" concept conversely designates U.S. airliners operating in the CRAF program as legitimate military targets.
2. The civilian staffing of the CRAF aircraft may legally constitute the use of "human shields."
3. Since there is no means to distinguish between CRAF flights and normal civilian airliners, a scheduled passenger flight might be misidentified and attacked as a military target. As an extreme, the targeting may be purely opportunistic, in the format of combat, or sabotage.
From the experience of the 1991 Gulf War, the CRAF program may also include incentives for the aircrews such as hazardous-duty pay, further compromising them as military targets. This could even create the potential for their being targeted as "unlawful combatants" - lacking the uniform and active-duty status of the host military - as per the Bush doctrine.
Additionally, the flight crews of the Desert Shield / Desert Storm "CRAF" operation were given a military medal. Thus, there is an additional historic military connection which could potentially act as an adverse legal precedent.
Having flown CRAF missions in the Gulf War - prior to the U.S. application of the "dual-use" concept of the Balkan Campaign, I think the counsel of an attorney, skilled in international law and the Geneva Convention, is now appropriate. Despite the civilized expectations of the Geneva Accords, it's clear that the rules have changed. Regrettably, we changed them.
Ralph Omholt is a Contributing Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at <>



This Site Served by TheHostPros