As European nations get more involved
in peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations overseas, they are hustling
to make good on their shortage of long range military transports. One solution
is the formation of aircraft pools, so that all the transports available can be
used by any of the pool nations involved in a distant operation. NATO has a
pool that includes leased Russian AN-124s, and a planned buy of three or four
C-17s. This month, four nations (Germany, France, Holland and Belgium) created
EATC (European Air Transport Command), and pooled many of their shorter range
transports (C-160s and C-130s). Members of the pool also have 117 new A400Ms on
order, but these won't begin arriving for another two years.
During the Cold War, such air transports were very
low priority, because if there was a war, the mighty Red Army of the Soviet
Union was going to home deliver it. But now all the action is far away, and the
military needs air freight for emergencies and other urgent missions.
The Russian An-124s get a lot of work from NATO
nations. This aircraft can carry up to 130 tons of cargo, as well as outsized
and extremely large cargo. The more numerous American C-17 can only carry up to
84 tons, while the new A400M can lift a maximum of 40 tons. The advantage of
the two smaller airlifters is the ability to operate from shorter unpaved
runways, which makes them less dependable on existing infrastructure.
The A400M has a top speed of 779 kilometers per
hour, a range of 7,500 kilometers, and normally carries about 27 tons. The
nearest competitor is the American C-130. The most common version is the
C-130H. It has a range of 8,368 kilometers, a top speed of 601 kilometers per
hour, and can carry up to 18 tons of cargo, 92 troops, or 64 paratroopers. The
latest version, the C-130J, has a top speed of 644 kilometers, 40 percent more
range than the C130H, and can carry 20 tons of cargo. The C-130 has been in
service for over half a century, and is used by more than 50 countries. The
C160 is an European aircraft, that is best described as a half-size C-130.
Great for moving stuff around inside Europe, but less so for more distant