Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 19 January 2020

Outlaws Inc: inside the fly-by-night transport trade

Mat Potter takes readers aboard the rugged Il-76 aircraft that are used to transport the weapons, fuel, explosives and other material need to fuel the world's conflicts.

Conflicts don't arm themselves. Weapons, fuel, explosives, and even medicine and other aid must constantly arrive at the front lines to keep a war fuelled. And in Outlaws Inc., Potter does an admirable job of showing just how that demand is met.

As the Soviet Union dissolved, a massive military force suddenly found itself equipment-rich but cash poor. So goods ranging from bullets to heavy aircraft suddenly began arriving on the open market - or simply disappearing. As a result, hundreds of rugged Il-76 transport aircraft and their crews found new work, hauling goods wherever they were needed.

Although Potter does explain the theories of commerce that guide where their wares land, the bulk of his writing is devoted to the planes and the men who fly them. There is a romantic air in his descriptions; at one point the words "Millennium Falcon" and "Han Solo" even enter the narrative.

It is at times off-putting, as he seems to lose track of the fact that many of these aircraft - which are banned in most western countries, mainly because of their tremendously loud engines - are being used to shuttle death to the Earth's most lawless regions.

On the whole, however, Potter brings an immensely complex story in for a gentle landing. Outlaws Inc. is a thorough, well-sourced account of how the fly-by-night transport trade works.

Updated: July 8, 2011 04:00 AM