US military airlift and tanker aircraft have flown with a proud “U.S. AIR FORCE” painted on the side of the fuselage for decades. They also featured markings indicating home units, tail numbers and oftentimes a tail flash showing the unit’s heritage.
But, as reported by Brian Everstine in an interesting piece appeared on AviationWeek.com, that is no more for much of Air Mobility Command (AMC).
The change was recently directed by AMC. The Command in fact directed its fleet to remove the large “U.S. AIR FORCE,” unit markings, tail numbers and other identifying markings. Recent photographs of KC-46s, KC-135s, C-130s and C-17s operating show just a small US flag on the tail and a light gray Air Force roundel.
The change was directed for operational security, AMC says in a statement.
“We operate across the globe every day, often supporting sensitive movements of people and cargo. Understandably, we have concerns about the operational security impacts to these missions in the modern era of on-demand, real-time information. Subdued paint schemes that limit identifiable information is one way we are taking a hard look at how we operate to ensure our ability to continue to deliver for America and our allies and partners around the world.
“Because of operational security concerns, we cannot provide specifics, though our aircraft will maintain markings as required by law.”
The news was confirmed by James Stewart, a spokesman for Air Mobility Command, who told Military.com in an emailed statement that airmen’s missions take them around the globe and often involve sensitive movements of cargo — the main reason behind the change.
“Understandably, we have concerns about the operational security impacts to these missions in the modern era of on-demand, real-time information. Subdued paint schemes that limit identifiable information is one way we are taking a hard look at how we operate to ensure our ability to continue to deliver for America and our allies and partners around the world.”
AMC did not disclose other details in its statement, such as how many markings would be hidden on its planes and which ones it will apply to.
“Because of operational security concerns, we cannot provide specifics, though our aircraft will maintain markings as required by law,” Stewart said in the statement.
The new move to obscure some identifying info on planes is both alarming and puzzling to government watchdogs and transparency advocates, despite AMC’s statement.
Jason Paladino, an investigator for the nonprofit Project On Government Oversight, told Military.com that the move is making information less available to the public for a seemingly unclear and unjustified reason.
“This is a data point that was previously available to the public that this command, it seems, is deciding for operational security reasons that it won’t get into, that the public doesn’t have a right to know, which I do think is concerning,” Paladino said.
Paladino was echoed by Jodi Vittori, a retired USAF lieutenant colonel and a professor at Georgetown University who specializes in government transparency. He told Military.com that this decrease in transparency from the Pentagon as a whole is alarming.
“The good governance community has seen transparency from the Department of Defense shrink over the years. We’re getting less and less information, not more, lately, and that’s been a troubling and difficult issue for civil society organizations to be able to monitor their own military,” Vittori said.
AMC boss Gen. Mike Minihan recently generated international headlines when a memo to his Airmen in which he suggested the US “will fight in 2025” with China leaked to the media.
The change in the paint schemes comes a little more than a month after Minihan’s memo.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army
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