- 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
- 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
- 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 <mailto:email@example.com>firstname.lastname@example.org.