Thirteen NATO countries, including several new members, today signed a letter of intent (LOI) with Boeing for the supply of a shared pool of four C-17 transport aircraft to solve the alliance's short term strategic airlift capability.
Defence ministers from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the USA signed an agreement with NATO to start talks with Boeing at a NATO preliminary meeting in Brussels today ahead of the Prague summitin November. NATO's Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA) will now begiun negotiations with Boeing on behalf of the 13 for the purchase of the aircraft following six months of talks.
The 13 countries will create the NATO Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC) based at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. The four C-17s within SAC will be flown by multinational aircrews and a multinational military structure will be created to command and control the aircraft, says NATO.
NATO considers the need for airlift increasingly important, especially for those nations without transport aircraft of their own, as humanitarian missions increase. This urgency is reflected in the aim to conclude negotiations by the end of this year and receive the first C-17 by the middle of next year, with additional aircraft every six months, the alliance adds. The SAC pilots will train at US Air Force facilities and initial operations activities are scheduled for the third quarter of next year, ramping up to full operating capability by 2009.
The concept behind the SAC is similar to the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS) arrangement, which involves the chartering of Antonov An-124 aircraft, with the 13 countries' armed forces using the aircraft for national, European or international engagements. Other countries can join SAC at a later date, NATO says.
The C-17s will be configured in the same way as those in UK Royal Air Force and USAF fleets, including air-to-air refuelling and night vision capabilities.