Today a Letter of Intent (LOI) has been publicly released by 13 NATO Allies to launch contract negotiations for the purchase of C-17 transport aircraft. On behalf of these nations, the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA) has begun negotiations with Boeing and the development of a formal Weapons System Partnership among the nations.
This follows six months of intense negotiations among Allies. In addition to the LOI, the 13 nations have developed a plan to create "NATO Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC)" based at Ramstein Air Force Base. Initially comprised of 3 to 4 C-17s, the SAC will be flown by multinational aircrews (pilots and loadmasters) and a multinational military structure will be created to command and control the aircraft. Discussions are underway with NATO's NAEW&C Force Command, the unit which flies the NATO AWACS, to determine the appropriate military organizational structure.
Because of the urgent operational need for strategic airlift, the SAC nations intend to conclude contract negotiations this year, and have the goal of receiving the first C-17 by the middle or end of next year. Plans are already underway to identify pilots for training at US Air Force facilities. Additional planes are called for to be delivered every six months. Thus the initial operating capability is planned for 3rd Quarter, 2007 with full operating capability in 2009.
The concept behind the SAC is similar to the SALIS (Strategic Airlift Interim Solution) arrangement, which involves the chartering of An-124 aircraft. The 13 NATO nations will fly the planes based on sovereign national requirements. While these national requirements will often be related to NATO operations, they may also be exclusively of a national character, or for UN, EU, or other international purposes (e.g., humanitarian airlift and disaster relief).
The SAC planes will be configured in the same way as the C-17s flown by the US Air Force and the UK Royal Air Force The air crews will be trained to the same basic standards, including air-to-air refueling and night vision operations.
Membership in the airlift fleet remains open to other nations, and some additional nations are considering joining.
Republic of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Kingdom of Denmark, Republic of Estonia, Republic of Italy, Republic of Latvia, Republic of Lithuania, Kingdom of the Netherlands, Republic of Poland, Romania, The Slovak Republic, Republic of Slovenia, The United States of America.