Mechanical ventilation (MV) is a life-saving intervention for many critically ill patients. Unfortunately, an unintended consequence of prolonged MV is the rapid development of diaphragmatic atrophy and contractile dysfunction, known as ventilator-induced diaphragm dysfunction (VIDD). Although the mechanism(s) responsible for VIDD are not fully understood, abundant evidence reveals that oxidative stress leading to the activation of the major proteolytic systems (i.e., autophagy, ubiquitin-proteasome, caspase, and calpain) plays a dominant role. Of the proteolytic systems involved in VIDD, calpain has received limited experimental attention due to the longstanding dogma that calpain plays a minor role in inactivity-induced muscle atrophy. Guided by preliminary experiments, we tested the hypothesis that activation of calpains play an essential role in MV-induced oxidative stress and the development of VIDD. This premise was rigorously tested by transgene overexpression of calpastatin, an endogenous inhibitor of calpains. Animals with/without transfection of the calpastatin gene in diaphragm muscle fibers were exposed to 12 h of MV. Results confirmed that overexpression of calpastatin barred MV-induced activation of calpain in diaphragm fibers. Importantly, deterrence of calpain activation protected the diaphragm against MV-induced oxidative stress, fiber atrophy, and contractile dysfunction. Moreover, prevention of calpain activation in the diaphragm forstalled MV-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and prevented MV-induced activation of caspase-3 along with the transcription of muscle specific E3 ligases. Collectively, these results support the hypothesis that calpain activation plays an essential role in the early development of VIDD. Further, these findings provide the first direct evidence that calpain plays an important function in inactivity-induced mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress in skeletal muscle fibers.