SAC C-17 landing on the dirt runway of Gao Airport. Photo: Royal Netherlands Army.
In the early morning of 1 March, a SAC Boeing C-17 Globemaster III cargo jet landed for the first time on the rugged dirt runway of Gao Airport in eastern Mali. The successful airlift mission marks a significant improvement for the Dutch peacekeepers stationed at Camp Castor near Gao Airport. Prior to this mission, cargo was transported to Camp Castor via road from Bamako, the capital of Mali. In recent months, Bamako has been a regular destination also for SAC C-17s. However, the 1,200 km journey via road from Bamako to Gao takes up to three days. Furthermore, the unstable security situation in Mali means that road transportation is not without its dangers.
HAW aircrew and logistics personnel from Camp Castor unload the cargo. Photo: Royal Netherlands Army.
Therefore, transporting cargo directly to Gao is both safer and more cost-effective. On this first mission to Gao, the freight consisted of supplies required for the maintenance and expansion of Camp Castor. As the C-17 has been designed to operate in challenging circumstances, it was no problem at all to land on the dirt runway. Even with cargo onboard, the aircraft came to a full stop within merely 600 meters. In addition, the C-17 has an advanced countermeasures system, which allows it to enter areas with elevated threat levels.
Being one of the 12 member nations of the Strategic Airlift Capability program, the Netherlands has access to 500 annual flight hours with the versatile C-17. Participating nations share the costs of owning and operating three C-17s based on the size of their flight hour quotas. The aircraft are operated by the multinational Heavy Airlift Wing. On the first mission to Gao, the aircrew consisted of personnel from the United States, Sweden and the Netherlands. According to the pilot-in-command, the flight was planned so that the landing in Gao took place early in the morning, when there is less dust in the air and the temperature is relatively low. After landing, the aircrew worked hard with the logistics personnel from Camp Castor to unload the cargo rapidly. After the task was completed, the C-17 took off to the sky, leaving behind a spectacular cloud of dust and sand.
SAC C-17 taking off from Gao. Photo: Royal Netherlands Army.
About the Strategic Airlift Capability
The Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC), established in 2008, is an independent and multinational program that provides access to military airlift capability to its 12 partner nations by owning and operating three Boeing C-17 Globemaster III long-range cargo jets.
SAC is based at the Hungarian Defence Forces (HDF) Pápa Air Base, Hungary.
The SAC Nations are the NATO members Hungary (program host nation), Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the United States and NATO Partnership for Peace nations Finland and Sweden. Each participating nation owns a share of the available flight hours of the SAC C-17s to serve the needs of their national defense, NATO, EU or UN commitments and humanitarian relief efforts.
SAC organizations consist of the operational arm, the Heavy Airlift Wing (HAW) and the NATO Airlift Management (NAM) Programme Office that is the acquisition and sustainment authority of the SAC C-17 weapon system. It also provides site and administrational support to the HAW.
The Boeing Company is contracted by SAC to provide technical support for the C-17 aircraft.
About operation MINUSMA
The United Nations are committed to helping restore security and stability in Mali. Their instrument for this is the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (Minusma). The Netherlands makes a major contribution to this mission, comprising about 450 personnel, four Apache attack helicopters and three Chinook transport helicopters.