Since the short notice commencement of Operation Newcombe, C-17 Globemaster aircraft operated by the RAF’s 99 Squadron have been flying 5,000-mile round-trip missions on a near daily basis, transporting armoured vehicles, freight and personnel.
Two days after the announcement by the Prime Minister that the UK would provide logistical support to French military operations in the West African state, 50 tons of military equipment were delivered to the capital Bamako, equivalent to a week’s worth of freight delivered to Afghanistan.
Wing Commander Simon Bellamy, the RAF liaison officer at the French military headquarters, said:
The deployment demonstrates the decisive contribution that air power can make to any emerging operation. The pace of our response to the formal French request for logistical support illustrates not only the professionalism of our personnel but also the increasingly strong and operationally-focused links we have generated with the French Air Force since the Libya campaign.
For Squadron Leader Spence Wild, a flight commander on 99 Squadron, the C-17 is tailor-made for the operation. He said:
The type of tasking we’re undertaking here is what the C-17 was designed and brought into service for. Being involved in a multinational, fast-paced build-up of forces over a great distance demonstrates the benefit of the C-17 and what it brings to our current inventory of air transport assets.
Detachment commander at Evreux Air Base is Squadron Leader Tom Walker who said:
We’re helping the French because they don’t have the capability that we do to lift large vehicles and heavy loads in one aircraft and transport them long distances at speed. Every single aircraft which has left here for Mali has done so with either a maximum payload or a maximum bulk against the priorities the French have given us.
As the commander, Squadron Leader Walker is responsible for a small team which includes movement personnel, signallers, aircrew, and force protection and security personnel, all of whom work from office accommodation nicknamed ‘The Bungalow’. He said:
These disparate branches have come together to deliver the output and each one brings something vital to the task. They have had to work very closely with their French counterparts at every level in order to get the job done.
And with unfamiliar vehicles and equipment to transport, another RAF Brize Norton-based unit has been deployed to assist.
Today, Friday 1 February, also saw Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton and his French Air Force counterpart, General Denis Mercier, renew the annual agreement to advance military co-operation between their respective air forces. Air Chief Marshal Dalton said:
From demanding missions in Afghanistan to our rapid response to the Libya crisis, the RAF continues to provide the nation’s air power wherever it is needed around the world.
Today, we are assisting our French ally with important counter-terrorist operations in Mali with both our C-17 transport and Sentinel surveillance aircraft, demonstrating the Royal Air Force’s agility, capability and global reach.
The agreement, known as the Directive of Objectives, is a direct result of the Security and Defence Cooperation Treaty signed in November 2010 by the governments of the UK and the French Republic.