A multi-national C-130 squadron has been supporting NATO in Bosnia for almost a year.

Tim Ripley/RIMINI

NORWEGIAN AIR FORCE Col Lasse Hobber, commander of NATO's multi-national Lockheed-Martin C-130 Hercules squadron in Bosnia, says: "When our capability became known around the theatre, we started to be asked to fly more and more missions."

The squadron is the NATO Alliance's first experiment in the operation of a multi-national air-transport unit, and only the second time that it has formed a joint air unit - the first being the successful force of Boeing E-3A airborne warning and control systems. From its base at Rimini, in Italy, the squadron's Dutch, Greek, Norwegian and UK Hercules and Fokker F27M troopships have been flown on daily missions to NATO air bases in the former Yugoslavia since Implementation Force (IFOR) troops were deployed to keep the peace in December 1995. When Alliance planners were assembling the IFOR in 1995, they decided to support the Allied Command Europe Rapid Reaction Corps with an inter-theatre-airlift and medical-evacuation squadron. Norway was appointed the lead nation for the unit, according to Hobber, who commanded the squadron during the first ten months of its deployment.


One Dutch and three Norwegian air force Hercules were deployed to Rimini from 8 December, 1995, and were flown on their first mission five days later - in time to support the arrival of NATO troops in Bosnia. The Dutch F27 aero-medical-evacuation aircraft and two Greek Hercules then arrived, followed by a UK Hercules in early January.

Early missions were flown in the depth of the Balkan winter. During this period, tension was high in Sarajevo, leading to one Norwegian Hercules being hit by a bullet and two more aircraft coming under small-arms fire.

In its first six months, the Multi-national Airlift and Medical Detachment Rimini (the squadron's full title) had flown more than 350 missions, including eight medical evacuations, carrying more than 2,000 passengers and more than 1,500t of cargo. Passengers have included IFOR troops, diplomats, medical personnel, aid workers, VIPs and the media. As the operation continued through the summer and into the autumn, its tempo was maintained.

The squadron has established a weekly flying programme, which involves daily inter-theatre flights around the former Yugoslavia and Italy, making calls at Split, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Mostar and Italy. Flights to Tuzla are now a purely US responsibility. An F27 is on call 24h a day, to evacuate stabilised casualties out of theatre, and a C-130 is on standby for short-notice missions. Rimini also provides a base for air transports, which are occasionally deployed to support their national contingents in Bosnia, such as those of Denmark and Italy. "When we arrived, we were not expected to be involved in deploying troop contingents," says Hobber, "but, when the Italians were deploying their brigade to Sarajevo, they attached a C-130 and an Alenia G222 here."

"My responsibility is air safety and co-ordinating the flight schedule," says Hobber. "That is all I do - the detachment commanders do not fly." Working for Hobber is a multi-national operations/intelligence and administration staff. Each nation is responsible for the crewing and maintenance of its own aircraft. "Even though we all fly Hercules, we cannot switch aircrews and aircraft because they are all really different aircraft. The nations all have different standards, operating rules and training," says Hobber.

The Norwegians use standard H models, with the Apollo defence system, while the Dutch fly stretched H-30s, with their own defence systems. The Greeks have standard H models with no defence systems, and the UK flies a unique version, fitted with an air-refuelling probe.

Dutch test

For the Royal Netherlands Air Force, the Bosnian mission is a major test of its newly acquired heavy-airlift capability, with one of its two new C-130H-30s and two F27s being assigned to Rimini for 12 months.

Fitted as standard to the Dutch Hercules, are comprehensive air-defence suites, based on wingtip-mounted ALR-69 radar-warning receivers and under-wing ALQ-131 jamming pods. Doppler radar missile-approach warning systems are fitted, along with chaff-and-flare dispensers and cockpit armour.

With IFOR ground troops established in Bosnia, the workload of the NATO C-130 squadron has been reduced, leading to one Norwegian Hercules being taken home in March. Hobber does not expect any more withdrawals. "We expect more work, especially during the IFOR redeployment," he says.

Source: Flight International