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Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF)

Definition The Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) is a cooperative program in which commercial airlines in the United States commit specific aircraft to support the Department of Defense (DoD) during emergencies or national crises. This program enhances the military’s airlift capabilities and allows for quick response to unforeseen needs for troop and cargo transport. Participating […]


The Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) is a cooperative program in which commercial airlines in the United States commit specific aircraft to support the Department of Defense (DoD) during emergencies or national crises. This program enhances the military’s airlift capabilities and allows for quick response to unforeseen needs for troop and cargo transport. Participating commercial airlines benefit from CRAF through defense contracts during peacetime and receive priority in the allocation of resources such as fuel and materials in a crisis.

Key Takeaways

  1. The Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) is a voluntary program in which civilian airlines commit their aircraft to support the United States Department of Defense (DoD) during times of national emergency, providing crucial air transportation resources for cargo and troops.
  2. Participating airlines in the CRAF program receive various benefits in exchange for their commitment, such as preferential bidding on government-funded contracts for transporting military personnel and cargo during peacetime.
  3. The CRAF program is divided into three stages: Stage I (Complementary Support) for peacetime support, Stage II (Expanded Support) for minor regional crises, and Stage III (Full Activation) for major national emergencies or global conflicts, with each stage having specific aircraft and resource requirements.


The Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) is a crucial component of military operations, as it plays a vital role in enhancing the strategic airlift capability of the United States during times of national emergencies or war.

Comprising of commercial aircrafts voluntarily committed by airlines, CRAF enables the Department of Defense to access additional air transportation resources, thereby ensuring rapid and efficient deployment of troops, equipment, and relief supplies.

The cohesion between the military and civilian aviation industry forged by CRAF ensures a cooperative and robust support system, which greatly contributes to national defense, humanitarian aid, and disaster response efforts.


The Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) serves a crucial purpose in enhancing the United States’ military capabilities when faced with unforeseen circumstances or urgent national defense requirements. Its primary function is to provide commercial airlift support during times of war or national emergencies when the military’s existing airlift resources may not be sufficient to handle the increased demands.

CRAF is essentially a partnership between the Department of Defense (DoD) and the U.S. airline industry, wherein participating airlines voluntarily commit a portion of their fleet to perform military airlift operations, thereby augmenting the military’s overall transportation capacity.

The CRAF program ensures rapid mobilization of personnel, equipment, and supplies by means of airlift transport through the use of its commercial aircraft, thereby significantly contributing to the responsiveness and the effectiveness of the U.S. military in various global conflict scenarios.

To maintain readiness for emergencies, the participating airlines and military authorities conduct regular training, joint exercises, and adhere to specific regulatory and operational guidelines, ensuring that resources are adequately prepared for the tasks. Consequently, CRAF not only serves to bolster national security efforts during times of crisis, but can also contribute to contingency operations, humanitarian missions, and disaster relief efforts that require the rapid deployment of military resources.

Examples of Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF)

Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm (1990-1991): During the Gulf War, the Civil Reserve Air Fleet was activated for the first time in history. US commercial aircraft were used to transport a significant number of troops, equipment, and supplies to the Middle East. More than 150 civilian aircraft from 20 commercial airlines participated in support missions, carrying approximately half of the US military personnel and 25% of the equipment and supplies needed.

Operation Restore Hope (1992-1993): CRAF was activated to transport troops, supplies, and equipment to and from Somalia during the US-led international humanitarian relief effort. Commercial airlines supported the military’s efforts in airlifting food supplies, medical and other aids, and providing transportation for refugees.

Operation Enduring Freedom (2001-2014)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-2010): In response to the Global War on Terrorism, the US Defense Department activated the CRAF program to support the military transportation needs in Afghanistan and Iraq. Civilian aircraft from commercial airline operators provided strategic airlift capabilities to transport personnel, equipment, and supplies to the conflict zones on an extensively coordinated scale. This allowed the military to focus on more direct combat and tactical operations in the region, while the CRAF facilitated essential logistical backup.These examples illustrate the importance of the Civil Reserve Air Fleet in providing critical airlift support to military operations, particularly during times of conflict or humanitarian crises. The collaboration between commercial airlines and the US military allows for an expanded transportation network and increased personnel and cargo capacity in support of strategic objectives.

Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) FAQ

What is the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF)?

The Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) is a program that partners the Department of Defense (DoD) with US civil air carriers, providing a reserve fleet of aircraft that can be activated during an emergency or wartime. By entering into contracts with these carriers, the CRAF ensures that a sufficient number of aircraft are available to meet military airlift requirements.

Why was CRAF created?

CRAF was established in 1951 due to the increased need for rapid military transport during the Korean War. The program was created to ensure the United States military could quickly mobilize and deploy necessary resources anywhere in the world during a crisis or conflict.

How does CRAF work?

CRAF operates by partnering with US civil air carriers who volunteer their aircraft to be available for military operations. In exchange for participating in the program, carriers are given various financial incentives and preferential treatment when bidding on DoD airlift contracts. When the need arises, the Secretary of Defense can implement a CRAF activation, which will call upon participating carriers to provide the necessary aircraft for military airlift operations.

What types of aircraft are used in CRAF?

The aircraft used in CRAF are typically commercial air carriers, such as passenger and cargo planes. They can be utilized for a variety of missions, including transporting troops and supplies, medical evacuations, and humanitarian relief efforts, depending on the specific needs of the military operation.

How often has CRAF been activated?

CRAF has been activated three times in its history. It was first activated in 1990 during Operation Desert Shield, then in 2002 for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and most recently in August 2021, to support the evacuation of US citizens and personnel from Afghanistan.

Related Military Operation Terms

  • Air Mobility Command (AMC)
  • Department of Defense (DoD)
  • Reserve Airlift Capability
  • National Airlift Response
  • Commercial Aviation Partners

Sources for More Information

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