Western air assets seem to withdraw at a quickened pace in Afghanistan, with transport aircraft following the earlier departure of fighter and attack aircraft. Last week, the last of Royal Air Force’s C-130 Hercules aircraft left the Afghanistan theatre, and now German Luftwaffe C-160 Transalls have followed.
The last C-160 departed on Mazar-e Sharif on Saturday 15 November, ending a 13 year deployment during which 55,000 flight hours were clocked, an astonishing 950,000 passengers and 76,000 tonnes of cargo transported. Of importance were the 481 medical evacuation flights completed.
The flight out of Afghanistan routed via Uzbekistan and Turkey back to Hohn airbase in northern Germany, home of Lufttransportgeschwader 63.
The pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan justifies the question if current operations against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) forces in Iraq and Syria were of influence. The answer seems a certain ‘yes’.
LATEST UPDATE 5 OCTOBER 2014 (CORRECTION READINESS LEVELS) | The air assets of the Bundeswehr, the German Armed Forces, are at an alarming low availability rate, according to recent reports leaked to the public via German Der Spiegel magazine.
According to maintenance journals that the editors of Der Spiegel got their hands a shocking low number of only 8 (!) of an official 109 Eurofighter EF2000s, named Typhoon in British service, are fully ready for all combat tasks. Meaning the German Air Force has to rely much on the remaining, aging and maintenance-sensitive Tornado jets to fulfill its duties. But of these 89 swept-wing fighter-bombers and electronic warfare aircraft, only 36 were fully combat ready at the end of September 2014 according to German media.
The number of available Sikorsky CH-53s dropped vertically to as low as 8 machines this summer, while 67 are on strength with an operational aim of 42. The new NHI Industries NH90 – a European product with tremendous problems while being deployed with Germany units in Afghanistan – is not much better of: 5 of the 33 helicopters are flyable. The German Navy’s Sealynx fleet had only four machines available in September.
A main reason for all these problems is partly a lack of funds, partly technical issues with new equipment.
The current star of German international operations, the old C-160 Transall tactical airlifter that flies into Northern Iraq and provides an air bridge between Senegal and the MINUSMA force in Mali, has an availability of about 50 percent – with 20 to 25 of the 56 machines ready to go at a given time.
LATEST UPDATE 24 AUGUST 2014 | While even Germany is now considering delivering weapons to Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq, the largest economy of Europe’s military force is for the time being continuing with its aid flights upon request of the European Air Transport Command (EATC) at Eindhoven Airbase, the Netherlands.
Berlin wants – like Italy, the United Kingdom and France – bolster the fighting power of the Kurdish forces so they can withstand the pressure of the Islamic State forces that have taken control of large parts of Syria and Iraq. With the Iraqi army retreated many western nations see the Kurdish militiamen as a stable alternative to govern the oil-rich northern part bordering with NATO member Turkey.
In the mean time aid flights bound for Erbil in Northern Iraq through Turkish Incirlik are continuing. The two Swedish TP 84s (C-130s) that left Örebro on Wednesday have landed in Turkey. Three German Air Force (Luftwaffe) C160 ESS Transall airlifters of Air Transport Wing 63 (Lufttransportgeschwader 63) based at Hohn left for Incirlik on 20 August as well, where a Antonov AN-124 (SALIS)large civilian airliner also made its way. Together with the Transalls about 100 tons of goods will be flown in. Four German C160s flew last week to Northern Iraq.
At least one other AN-124 flight is planned out of Sweden this week. The Royal Netherlands Air Force executed its second C-130H Hercules flight on 19 August 2014. A Polish Air Force C-130E from 3 Air Transport Wing took off from Warsaw airport on Sunday 17 August with 8 tons of blankets, mattresses, beds, field first aid and food packages to Erbil in Northern Iraq. It returned home the day after. The French Air Force has flown an Airbus A340 twice into the area, on 10 August and on 13 August.
The Swedish Air Force (Flygvapnet) will dispatch two of its seven operational C-130 Hercules aircraft to Iraq, the Swedish defence minsiter Karin Enström announced during a press conference on 18 August 2014. The first Royal Netherlands Air Force is on its way as well, while a quartet of German Transalls already left before last weekend.
The planes – locally designated TP 84 – will fly tents and essential supplies to refugees in the Northern Iraqi mountains, who are on the run for the fighting between the so-called Islamic State rebel forces (ISIS) and Western supported forces in the area.
A first recon team from the Swedish Emergency Response Authority (MSB) is already in place in Iraq for an assessment of the situation and needs. The Swedish deployment decision comes shortly after an alert issued by the United Nations.
The Swedish Hercs are amongst the oldest in Europe, with the first operational since 1965. Two of the aircraft – a C-130E/TP 84A with serial 841 and a C-130H/TP 84C with serial 843 – are being phased out this year, while the remainder part of the fleet will have to soldier on, probably with modifications. Aircraft 841 was already flown to England on 9 June for what is officially still called “storage”.
The C-130E/TP 84B with serial 842 and the C-130H/TP 84Ds with serials 844, 845, 846, 847 and 848 are all based at Såtenäs Airbase at the banks of the huge lake Vänern in southern Sweden. One of the aircraft is technically a KC-130, having a inflight-refuelling system.
Norway is considering the deployment of one of its four C-130Js to Iraq, but so far only has made the offer that the plane is available if somebody else asks for it. A Royal Netherlands Air Force C-130H already left Eindhoven Airbase around noon on Monday 18 August with blankets, LED lights and food for the ten thousand or more Yezidi people in dire conditions in Northern Iraq.
The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) sent four Transall C.160ESSs from Lufttransportgeschwader 63 (Air Transport Wing 63) based at Hohn already on 15 August to Northern Iraq. They flew their last stage from Incirlik Airbase in Turkey before returning home on 17 August. Like all other aid flights so far, the German C.160s landed at Erbil in Iraq, from where aid organisations distribute the goods further into the mountains.
All is nice and peaceful in Evreux, a French airbase 90 kilometers west of Paris. A single C-160 Transall, callsign Cujan 30, is flying circuits as part of a currency flight for two pilots. On the ground, other C-160s are being looked after or just quietly parked, doing nothing. But the peacefulness is deceiving; in reality, the two based Armée de l’Air transport squadrons are involved in Operation Serval in Mali and Operation Sangaris in the Central African Republic. It’s hard work for the people in Evreux, which is now the epicentre of all French Transall operations. Last but not least, a new airlifter is coming to town.
AHF↑Inside is a series of exclusive insights in the world of aviation. This time, AIRheads↑Fly editor Elmer van Hest and AIRheads↑Fly photographer Dennis Spronk
capture French C-160 Transall operations in Evreux and foresee an Airbus A400 shaped future. Previous AHF↑Inside features are to be found here.
Both C-160 Transall squadrons at Evreux have quite a history behind them. “Our squadron is the most decorated transport squadron in the Armée de l’Air”, says Fréderic Leca, commander of l’ Escadre de Transport (ET) 01.064 ‘Béarn’ squadron. The 85 men and women strong squadron has been decorated in the past for operations in Cambodja and Afghanistan, among other places. Coming June, ‘Béarn’ squadron celebrates 70 years of existence along with sister squadron ET02.064 ‘Anjou’. However, a busy schedule keeps both squadrons occupied for some time to come.
The daily flying schedule is mainly decided upon by European Air Transport Command (EATC), a cooperation between the forces of France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands that puts the combined air transport and air to air refuelling fleet under a joint command. Now, 90 percent of all flights is done by request of EATC. Also, ET01.064 is the lead Transall squadron in the air-to-air refueling role.
Since February last year, both Evreux units are involved in Operation Serval in Mali. Initially, up to ten C-160s were based in Mali, but this number has now been reduced to three, with an identical number of crews. Leca: “At the start of Operation Serval, we sent only our most experienced pilots to Mali. But now, all our combat ready pilots go there for a maximum of two months at a time. Our mission in Mali is to perform transport flights, medical flights and tactical assignments.”
Djibouti Last December, the French government also decided to intervene in the civil war-torn Central African Republic under the name operation Sangaris. But Mali and the Central African Republic are not the only regular destinations for French Transall crews. “I was in Djibouti last week”, continues squadron commander Leca. “We flew from Evreux and after two hours performed air-to-air refueling in the skies over Corsica. We then flew on to Djibouti , where we took part in tactical training missions with helos and fighter aircraft. We flew from unpaved strips typical for operations in Africa.”
It’s illustrative of the ever strong C-160 Transall’s capabilities. The French made prototype C-160 first flew on 25 February 1963, with the German made prototype following three months later. A total of 210 aircraft were eventually built by the French-German Transporter Allianz, consisting of French Nord Aviation (later Aérospatiale) and German VFW and HFB (who later both merged into MBB). The Armée de l’Air version was designated C-160F, wich after modifications became C-160R or C-160G ‘Gabriel’ for ELINT ops and C-160H for the airborne communications variant. The total French fleet counted 79 aircraft. Other operators are or were Germany, Turkey, South Africa and Indonesia.
“It’s a fantastic aircraft, well-shaped and still quite up to date”, says Leca. “It’s an easy and forgiving plane to fly and it has a massively strong landing gear, stronger than that of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules.” The belly of the Transall can hold either 16.000kg of cargo, up to 93 troops or 62 stretcher patients on medical flights. The Rolls-Royce Tyne Mk 22 turboprop equipped Transall has a range (without air to air refuelling) of 1,800 kilometers while carrying the maximum payload. Empty, the range is an impressive 8,800 kilometers. Defensive countermeasures and newer avionics were added to the Transall over the years.
All in all, 2014 sees not only the celebrations of 70 years of ET01.064 and ET02.064, but also 50 years of flying the C-160, and according to the people at Evreux, at least nine more years are to follow before the final Transall sees retirement. However, the new Airbus A400M strategic airlifer has already been introduced in Orleans, the other major French Air Force transport airbase. In preparation, all 35 or so French C-160s transporters now reside in Evreux. Every year, about four C-160s will be retired. Next up is a C-160R with serial R159, which has a handfull of hours left and is therefore only used for local training flights.
While on subject of training, several members of ET01.064 are already being trained on the A400M, of which 50 were ordered by France. ‘Béarn’ squadron will be the second Armée de l’Air squadron to operate the new Airbus airlifter, following in the footsteps of ET 01.061 ‘Touraine’. Leca: “We expect our first squadron crews to be fully qualified in 2016, and in 2017 we will move to Orleans Airbase to fly the A400M from there.”
But, at Evreux the C-160 Transall will be seen for some time to come, flying in support of operations such as Serval or Sangaris, be used for para- or cargo drops, flying as an airborne refuelling platform, practicing short field landings or just flying currency missions such as Cujan 30. So actually appearances do deceive; it’s not all nice and quiet at Evreux. It’s a hive of French C-160 Transall activity.