The Strategic Airlift Shortage

One of the reasons the U.S. is looking for overland supply routes intoAfghanistan is because air links are more expensive. But as Richard Weitz points out in his thorough analysis of the Afghan supply problem,NATO (and European) strategic airlift also happens to be in prettyshort supply these days. The SALIS and NSAC programs were stopgapmeasures designed to hold until the Airbus A400M is delivered. Theformer involves 15 NATO nations leasing strategic airlift fromUkrainian and Russian firms as needed. The latter is a multinationalconsortium to buy three C-17s as pooled assets.

Those A400Mswere originally scheduled to be delivered this year, but productiondelays, technical snafus and cost overruns have raised the question ofwhether or not the contracting governments will activate automaticpenalties and/or escape clauses (which would kill the programoutright). Today, Le Figaro (via Secret Défense)revealed a confidential EADS document, part of the negotiating processbetween EADs and the A400M’s buyers, that puts the first deliveries of anysignificant number of aircraft at 2014, even if the first drips anddrabs will come in the year or two prior to that.

That comes ata time when, as Richard Gowan points out (via today’s WPR Media Roundup), EU countries are already pulling back on overseaspeacekeeping deployments due to the financial crisis. I’d mentioned last week that I had a hunch the NATO car wouldn’t be coming out of the garage much in a post-Afghanistan environment. But the EU car might be joining it there, too.