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July 13, 2017: In June 2017 the EU (European Union) finally opened its ETAC (European Tactical Airlift Center) in Spain. This new facility at Zaragoza will be the permanent home for EAFT (European Air Transport Fleet). This project has been in the works since 2011 when it became clear (during the 2011 European air support operations in Libya) that the EU nations were too dependent on the United States for all sorts of military air transport and other specialized services like aerial tankers and electronic warfare aircraft. It wasn’t just the lack of transports and support aircraft, there wasn’t even much in the way of measuring the shortages in the EU and planning on how to deal with it. The idea of an EU ETAC had been around for over a decade but in 2011 it became obvious that something had to be done.

The Americans had long warned of this overdependence on the U.S. (at great expense to the Americans) and while many European military leaders agreed, it took the clear example of what happened over Libya, and when EU states sought to participate in distant peacekeeping or disaster aid missions. There was indeed a shortage of air transport and air refueling aircraft in the EU. This continues to be a major problem with supporting EU peacekeepers operating in Africa (Congo, Mali. Sudan and so on) where most of the peacekeeping is these days. To deal with these shortages EU nations have to call on NATO resources (the Americans again) or (more frequently) charter air transports, including the largest ones that were only available from Russia and Ukraine. Since 2011 situation has become better but EU warplanes operating over Iraq, Syria and other distant areas are still dependent on the U.S. Air Force for aerial refueling and a lot of the aerial intel and electronic warfare tasks.

The EU in the form of the EDA (European Defense Agency) recruited eleven nations (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Norway) to contribute cash, personnel to create EAFT and build ETAC in Spain. From that new facility ETAC personnel will be responsible for planning and organizing airlift cooperation between EAFT participants. Pooling and coordinating air transport needs means fewer flights so it’s cheaper to transport supplies to EU missions in places like Africa. It is easier to organize training for members air transport personnel. The ETAC will be manned by experts from the participating countries on a rotational basis. The first officers will be from Span, Italy, Germany and France but they will be replaced within 3 to 4 years with staff from other member states.

ETAC is not unique because NATO has long used pooling and sharing method to improve their airlift capability and operational efficiency. The best example of this is the Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany which has long been a primary transport hub for European NATO members. A common use of Ramstein is dealing with situations where a NATO member doesn’t have the capability to transport theirs Special Forces somewhere far-far away. They can use American aircraft stationed there for that purpose. Moreover there is also NATO multinational unit located at Pápa Air Base (Hungary) as a “Heavy Airlift Wing” (usually three C-17 transports) for moving NATO forces further east.

The creation of ETAC also demonstrates the EDA ability to take a defense collaboration effort from idea to implementation and then operate the facility. -- Przemysław Juraszek

 

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