Strategic airlift capabilities are important to ensure that NATO Allies are able to deploy their forces and equipment rapidly and wherever they are required. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the NATO-supported Strategic Airlift International Solution (SALIS) has played a key role enabling NATO nations to airlift urgent medical equipment and respond to the crisis.
Since mid-March, SALIS, managed by the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), has airlifted over 950 tons of medical supplies in record time for many of its nine NATO participating nations.
“SALIS has demonstrated to be a successful multinational programme, assuring access to unique airlifting capabilities to the nine nations in crisis time. During the pandemic, the majority of our SALIS customers have used their flying hours to deliver the required medical cargo and protect their population in this difficult time. The crews have flown a total of 468 hours in support to the nations”, explained Mr Franck Verdierre, NSPA Head of Transportation & Warehousing.
Besides the COVID-19 missions, SALIS capacity is used on daily basis by the participating nations support their operational requirements.
More Than 950 Tons Airlifted During Covid-19 Pandemic
Through SALIS, nations obtain assured access of up to five AN-124 aircraft within few days from tasking. Since the first SALIS flight in February 2006, SALIS has flown over 2,200 missions with more than 44,100 flying hours. SALIS participating nations have used Antonov aircraft in the past to transport equipment to and from Afghanistan, deliver aid to the victims of the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, and airlift African Union peacekeepers in and out of Darfur.
The current contract with Antonov Logistics SALIS (ALS) includes access to AN-22, AN-225 and IL-76 Chap IV aircraft. Besides the ongoing NATO and EU missions and operations, SALIS is currently playing a vital role in helping some of the participating nations to tackle the COVID-19 crisis. To date, SALIS AN-124 and AN-225 aircraft have completed 17 missions and airlifted over 950 tons of medical supplies in support to five NATO nations, including Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany or Poland.
The Czech government tasked the first missions in mid-March. In the three missions executed between the 19th and the 31st of March a total of more than 100 tons of medical equipment, including protective suits, respirators and protective googles among other equipment, were airlifted from Shenzen, in southeaster China, to Pardubice airport.
In between the Czech airlifts, another AN-124 aircraft executed a mission in support to Slovakia on 25th of March, which brought around 55 tons of protective equipment to the nation.
Germany completed six missions between the 23rd of April and the 14th of May. Altogether, the nation airlifted more than 300 tons of supplies, including nearly 41 million of protective masks to equip the contingent fighting COVID-19 on the front line. The second German mission was executed using an AN-225 aircraft, the largest and heaviest cargo plane in the world. For the German flights and due to airport congestions, the cargo was loaded in different locations: Shanghai, Tianjin and Shenzen. From each of those locations, it was transferred to the SALIS home base in Leipzig/Halle, in Germany.
The Polish Government tasked five missions to SALIS. The last Polish mission, completed on 3 June 2020, was also the last COVID-19 mission executed so far. Poland started airlifting medical supplies on the 7th of April. Since then, five AN-124 aircraft transferred 299 tons of equipment and supplies to Wroclaw airport.
SALIS Mechanisms: Great Cooperation Among Many Stakeholders
The success of the SALIS missions relies on well-established mechanisms and the great cooperation among various teams. “SALIS is a truly well-oiled machine which only works because all stakeholders involved are determined to “go the extra-mile” for our customers, the nine NATO nations”, assured Mr Hajo Busche, NSPA SALIS Officer.
The SALIS Steering Board, composed by representatives of the nine nations is the highest directing body for all SALIS matters. While NSPA manages the SALIS contract on behalf of the nations and provides support to the SALIS Support Partnership, the Strategic Airlift Coordination Cell (SALCC) coordinates SALIS operations and day-to-day business. “The expertise of our SALCC colleagues was key to ensure the proper execution of the SALIS flights” explained Mr Hajo Busche, NSPA SALIS OfficerMr Busche.
The SALCC is a multinational military organization, established in 2006 and co-located with the Movement Coordination Centre Europe (MCCE) based in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. The aim of SALCC is to manage the SALIS (Strategic Air Lift International Solution) contract on an executive level in the most efficient and effective way.
The great cooperation with Antonov Logistic SALIS (ALS) was another key factor. “Our SALIS contractor has a very professional team. During these missions, they have been available 24/7, rising to all challenges successfully and delivering a first-class service”, assured Mr Busche.
The Strategic Air Lift International Solution or SALIS is a programme created to provide unique air transport capability (outsized cargo) for its participating nations. Currently, a group of nine NATO Allies (Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) are benefiting from the programme.
The programme is managed by the NATO Support Procurement Agency (NSPA) on behalf of the nine nations. In December 2018, NSPA signed a contract with the German-based company Antonov Logistics Salis to obtain assured access of up to five AN-124 aircraft within few days. In addition, the current contract also provides access to AN-22, AN-225 and IL-76 Chap IV aircraft.