The history of Air Support LaunchingThe history of Air Support Launching

Lt Col Rodrigo Tavares Ferreira

Since ancient times, the displacement of human resources, materials and animals to the areas of operations has depended on the existing infrastructure in place and on the geographic and meteorological conditions. However, the difficulty of access to certain regions has never been an impeditive factor for army campaigns.

In order for supplies to reach distant and remote locations quickly, the Armed Forces employ their airplanes and helicopters. This noble means of transportation is indicated for air supply, mainly in the following situations (BRASIL, 2021, p. 2-1):

(a) Transposition of large obstacles.

b) Deep operations that require long and fast displacements.

c) Inexistence of an adequate road network to support the necessary tonnage.

d) Interdiction, or reduction, of the traffic capacity of roads.

e) Isolation of friendly troops, mainly by enemy action.

f) Urgency in carrying out the distribution.

Until the First World War, armies used men, carts, ships, railroads, automobiles and trucks to carry out logistical transportation to any region. However, in this conflict, the airplane started to be used by armies, expanding the possibilities of distribution of supplies to the troops, quickly and to any point on the ground (DEL RE, 1955).

During the Great War, in 1916, the British supplied their troops, besieged by the Turks, in the siege of Kut-el-Amara, in Mesopotamia, on the Western Front. In 1918, the French airdropped volumes of supplies to the troops of the Jouinot-Gambetta Cavalry Division, which had been launched in pursuit of the enemy in a mountainous region (DEL RE, 1955).

In World War II, air refueling for ground troops became a viable method, mainly to provide logistical support to isolated units that could not be supported by the ground mode (POTTER; GILLES, 2006; DEL RE, 1955).

In the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942, aerial refueling supplied German troops that were besieged by the Soviet army. This operation lasted from December 24, 1942, to January 31, 1943, during which time 4,500 to 5,000 flights were made, 6,591 tons of supplies were delivered to the army troops, and approximately 50,000 wounded were evacuated (DEL RE, 1955).

In the Burma campaign in 1943, logistical support to the British army troops was based almost exclusively on airdrops of supplies and equipment into jungle clearings behind enemy lines (POTTER; GILLES, 2006).

In 1944, in the Battle of the Ardennes, the troops of the 101st Airborne Division occupied defensive positions around the town of Bastogne and were isolated without being able to receive ground support. Thus, the only viable logistical support was accomplished by the air modal, through which aircraft dropped ammunition, fuel, and medical supplies to the troops of the 101st Airborne Division (USA, 2019; POTTER; GILLES, 2006).

The Allied Third Army under General Patton, after the invasion of Normandy, received 11% of its total supplies and 22% of the fuel needed by its armored personnel by air (DEL RE, 1955).

After World War II, the British and American armies used air supply to support operations in Korea, East Africa, Suez, Brunei, Borneo, Oman, Northern Ireland, Rhodesia, Iraq, and Afghanistan (POTTER; GILLES, 2006).

In the Korean War, the rugged topography and the absence of rail and road infrastructure on the peninsula forced the Americans to use air supply, transporting tons of supplies from Japan to Korea. However, the great innovation was the use of helicopters to carry out aerial supply, providing greater flexibility and speed to logistical support (DEL RE, 1955).

Air War in Korea. Combat paratroopers pile out of C-119 Cargo airplanes of the U.S. Far East Air Forces Combat Cargo Command, over the Sunchon area north of Pyongyang. More than 4,000 Army airborne troops, plus equipment and supplies, were airlifted by FEAF Combat Cargo Command during operation. AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM#: 77990 AC

In the campaign in Afghanistan in 2010, the U.S. Air Force airdropped more than 27,000 tons of supplies in support of more than 100,000 American soldiers and their allies (STURKOL, 2011).

Starting in the 1970s, airdropping began to be used in humanitarian aid operations around the world, such as in 1973 in Nepal, when the British airdropped 2,000 tons of grain to the population living in remote areas of the Himalayas (POTTER; GILLES, 2006).

In 2010, after the earthquake in Haiti, the Americans released 25 tons of food and water to the population. In 2014, in Iraq, they threw 74,000 ready-to-eat rations and 15,000 bottles of water to the population living near Sinjar. In addition, in the city of Amerli, more than 39,900 liters of water and 7,000 ready-to-eat rations were thrown at Iraqi civilians (USA, 2019 a; NICKEL, 2014; REUTERS, 2014).

Currently, in the Brazilian Army, the Battalion of Folding, Parachute Maintenance and Airborne Supplies (B DOMPSA) is the main conductor of the Land Force regarding the airborne supply mission (BRASIL, 2021).

Finally, it can be concluded that airdrops are essential to sustain logistical support to armies in campaign and to populations in need of humanitarian aid. They allow the required supplies to reach distant and difficult to access places, ensuring freedom of action, range, logistical support and duration of operations (BRASIL, 2021).



DEL RE, Januário João. A Intendência Militar através dos tempos. Biblioteca do Exército. Companhia Editôra Americana. 1955

NICKEL, S. Riggers support air drops in Northern Iraq. August 12, 2014. Disponível em: Acesso: 17 de maio de 2022.

POTTER, J. A.; GILES, L. The United Kingdom’s Air Drop Capability. MINISTRY OF DEFENCE LONDON (UNITED KINGDOM), 2006.

REUTERS. The Economic Times. US humanitarian relief airdrop mission over Iraq. 01 Sep 2014. Disponível em: Acesso: 17 de maio 2022.

STURKOL, S.T. Afghanistan airdrop levels set record in 2010. Jan. 19, 2011. Disponível em: Acesso: 17 de maio de 2022.

USA. Department of the Army. FM 4-0 SUSTAINMENT OPERATIONS, 2019.

USA. Joint Publication 3-17 Air Mobility Operations, 2019 a.

About the author:

Lieutenant-Colonel Rodrigo Tavares Ferreira is the Head of the Planning and Studies Section of the Army Internal Control Center (CCIEx), based in Brasilia (DF). He was declared officer aspirant in 2001, by the Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras (AMAN). He attended the Officer Training School (EsAO), in 2011, and the Army Command and Staff School (ECEME), in 2018/2019. He holds a master’s degree in Military Sciences from ECEME. He holds the Folding, Parachute Maintenance and Airborne Supply (DOMPSA) Course and performed the Air Transport Internship and the Material Mobilization Internship. He was Chief of the Logistics Section in the DOMPSA Battalion and Chief of the Planning Section of the Logistics Branch of the 1st Military Region.

*** Translated by the DEFCONPress Team ***

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