Air Transportation: Why The Skies Are Clear Over Darfur

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February 20, 2006: UN attempts to get Western nations involved with peacekeeping in Darfur, are meeting with a lot of resistance. This is not because the Western nations refuse to believe that some vigorous peacekeeping isn't needed in Sudan, but because they don't think they could supply the number of troops needed to get the job done. It's all about logistics. Darfur is in the middle of nowhere, and requires large numbers of air transports to supply troops. There are no nearby seaports, and the roads cannot support both humanitarian aid, and military supplies. Most of the supplies will have to come in by air.

European nations never had many military air transports to begin with, and what little they have is tied up in supporting operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Same with the much larger American military air transport fleet. Getting the troops there is one thing, but supplying them is even more important.

The European nations say they want to be better prepared for peacekeeping operations, but only if the peacekeepers can be supplied via sea, or commercial air transport. Darfur is unable to supply either. For over twenty years, European nations have been working on developing a new military air transport; the A400M. But the first flight won't take place until 2008, and deliveries won't begin until 2009. The A400M is a bigger and getter version of the half century old C-130. The A400M would be suitable for sustaining an peacekeeping mission in Darfur. But the A400Ms are not available, nor are sufficient C-130s or C-160s (a smaller, European made, transport).

The war on terror, and increased demand for peacekeepers, have not inspired the European nations to gear up for this sort of work. European defense spending, as a percentage of GDP, has declined 11 percent since September 11, 2001, while American spending has gone up 23 percent. For many European nations, their armed forces are just another jobs program. Since the end of the Cold War, combat readiness, and actual military capability have had a low priority. As a result, attempts to send European peacekeepers to Darfur would be very risky, and Europeans prefer to talk about it. That's a much safer, and cheaper, option.

 


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