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Corrected Version: NATO Forces Closer to Attaining C-17s

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Reeba Critser
Special to American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, Aug. 13, 2008 – Affectionately named the “Moose,” the C-17 Globemaster III transport jet is only three signatures away from finding a new home at Papa Air Base, Hungary.

After years of planning, NATO members and partners are close to gaining access to three C-17s to share for their national requirements, including NATO missions in Afghanistan.

“Some countries don’t have enough [need for] airlift to purchase their own C-17s,” said Peter Flory, NATO’s assistant secretary general for defense investment.

The solution is to share the C-17s. The initiative, called Strategic Airlift Capability, allows 12 NATO members and two partners to draw on the aircraft’s capabilities at a fixed rate. First, all the nations must sign a memorandum of understanding, then they pay the acquisition cost. After that, they pay the operating cost at the end of each year. The nations then request flight hours with an operations team located at Pápa Air Base, officials explained.

The team at Papa factors in time between planned aircraft use for emergencies. Participating nations can trade their flight hours, and if maintenance is required, the consortium nations will pull the costs from their operating budget to repair the problem.

The decision to use C-17s for the initiative was made with the capabilities available at the time, a U.S. defense advisor to the European Union said. NATO countries were looking for an aircraft that could carry large cargo, land while under combat, and on short runways. The C-17s fit that description.

According to Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer, recommended use of the C-17 is 1,000 flight hours a year, which gives the aircraft a life expectancy of 30 years.

“With a full payload, the C-17 can go a distance of 2,400 nautical miles and up to 28,000 feet,” said U.S. Air Force Col. John Zazworsky, commander of the Heavy Airlift Wing at Papa Air Base and commander of C-17 operations for NATO Strategic Airlift Capability.

“The C-17 was designed around the cargo load,” he said. “It can convert to airline or cargo seats. It can handle a combination of passengers, vehicles, track vehicles, cargo, medical evacuations, Hummers, fire trucks, helicopters, an Abrams tank -- up to 75 metric tons -- and can land on short, austere landing zones.”

With these figures, it’s no surprise that the United States has about 180 C-17s in its own Air Force.

The United States will provide the personnel to operate the C-17s until each nation in the consortium is ready to handle them on their own.

“Initially, there will only be U.S. personnel manning the C-17s,” Zazworsky said. “But with training, the countries will be able to use their own pilots and loadmasters. It will take a year and a half to train the country’s crew and for them to be comfortable with the C-17 to fly on their own.”

The United States is providing one aircraft as a national contribution, and the other partner nations are purchasing the other two aircraft. However, all three aircraft will be owned by the consortium and can be used at the nations’ discretion.

Officials say they hope to receive the first aircraft in the spring.

(Army Sgt. 1st Class Reeba Critser serves with the U.S. Mission to NATO. This article replaces a version posted Aug. 8, 2008, which contained inaccuracies.)

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