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 May 20 2020

NATO-Partner Strategic Airlift Capability Provides Airlift to its 12 Member Nations

The Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC), based in Pápa, Hungary is an independent and multinational programme that provides assured access to strategic military airlift capability for its 12 member nations - including during times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Relying on certain NATO support structures, the SAC transcends the military and political alliance and is governed by the SAC Steering Board that exercises overall responsibility for the guidance, execution and oversight of the programme. With the SAC Memorandum of Understanding the programme was established in September 2008 and has a life cycle of 30 years as a minimum. SAC member nations are NATO Allies Hungary (host nation), Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the United States, and NATO Partnership for Peace nations Finland and Sweden.

The SAC is a proven example of the concepts of ‘Smart Defence’ and ‘Pooling & Sharing’ developed successfully from an idea to reality
“SAC is a proven example of the concepts of ‘Smart Defence’ and ‘Pooling & Sharing’ developed successfully from an idea to reality. Collective ownership and operation of strategic airlift assets ensures cost-effectiveness”, said Colonel James S. Sparrow, Commander of the Heavy Airlift Wing (HAW).

The Heavy Airlift Wing is the military operational unit of the SAC, it is composed of 145 personnel from the SAC member nations. The HAW operates three Boeing C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft in response to SAC member nations’ mission requirements. The missions are allocated in accordance with a pre-agreed distribution of flight hours. While SAC missions are flown independently of NATO’s chain of command, the C-17s are registered and flagged in Hungary, and all SAC nations share the operational costs based on their flight hour commitments to the programme.

In 2019, the SAC celebrated 10 years of successful global strategic airlift operations. In those ten years SAC C-17s have flown almost 29,000 hours on more than 2,500 missions, delivered 180 million lbs. (82,000 tons) of cargo and carried more than 136,000 passengers.

“The SAC programme where twelve nations come together to have assured access to this aircraft is phenomenal,” said Colonel Sparrow, adding that “while there are several Smart Defense programmes out there, this is one of the most successful ones, because it provides the member nations with a capability that most of them could not maintain on their own.”

The HAW is ready to respond to a wide array of airlift needs, and missions can contain multiple tasks such as air refueling, single-ship airdrop, assault landings and all-weather operations day or night into low to medium threat environments using night vision goggles. The operations can include national support to EU / NATO / UN operations or national military, peace-keeping and humanitarian relief operations wherever and whenever needed by the SAC member nations. International operations supported include NATO operations in Afghanistan, and Libya, UN missions in Mali and the Central African Republic, and European Union Training Mission in Mali. The SAC has also executed missions to support earthquake relief in Haiti, flood relief in Pakistan and hurricane relief to the island of St. Maarten, as well as logistics support to the 2014 MH17 crash investigation in Ukraine, and national defence activities and training events in its member nations. Most recently the SAC C-17s have executed flexible and swift transport missions supporting several SAC member nations in their battle against COVID-19 with much needed supplies.

While the HAW aircraft and supporting equipment are owned by the SAC Nations, the NATO Airlift Management Programme Office (NAMPO), an integral part of NATO Support and Procurement Agency , is the acquisition and sustainment authority and manager for the SAC C-17’s life cycle and provides site and administrational support to the HAW. Boeing, the manufacturer of the C-17, is responsible for contract flight line maintenance; engineering and technical support; and management and supply of spare parts.

Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office based on input from the HAW/SAC Public Affairs Office

The three SAC/HAW C-17 Globemaster tails at Pápa Air Base, Hungary. The C-17s are registered and flagged in Hungary and all SAC nations share the operational costs. Photo by Ville Tuokko
View of the SAC Compound at Pápa Air Base, with two of the programme's three C-17 parked on the apron. Photo courtesy HAW/SAC
The SAC member nations man all positions in the HAW - view of the mission control room at the Pápa Air Base, Hungary. Photo by Henrik Gebhardt.

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