USA to expand An-124 use

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The US Air Mobility Command (AMC) has opened a partnership with Antonov An-124 charter operator Volga-Dnepr, filling a critical need for outsized cargo airlift capability. An-124s, which are larger than the US Air Force’s Lockheed Martin C-5 Galaxy, have been flying chartered missions for AMC since 2003.

The USAF has spent about $800 million so far this year on chartered cargo flights, with $24 million paid to Volga-Dnepr for An-124 services. The latter sum is a substantial increase on last year’s $11 million and is approaching the $29 million spent in 2003. Dale Huegen, AMC’s chief of the contract airlift division, says the An-124 is chartered as a last resort when C-5s or air force Boeing C-17A Globemaster IIIs are unable to operate airlift missions.

Volga-Dnepr has established a US subsidiary in Houston, Texas that has committed An-124s to be available for the USAF in the event of a national emergency. This qualifies Volga-Dnepr to compete for cargo charter tenders issued by the AMC and other federal agencies.

The AMC’s dealings with the Russian charter company have attracted scrutiny from Congress, with the command’s need for the An-124 coming as US military leaders privately evaluate the Mobility Capabilities Study. Congress also is considering a proposal to allow a private company to buy early production C-17s, which could be used for private flights as well as being made available for USAF outsized cargo missions.

STEPHEN TRIMBLE / WASHINGTON DC