Logistical challenges facing the Ministry of Defence aren’t confined to supplying troops in conflict zones. Whether it is a natural or man-made disaster, with broken infrastructure and shortages of food and water, responding to life-threatening situations and providing humanitarian assistance is an essential function of the modern Armed Forces.
Playing a key role in the Armed Forces’ ability to deliver this aid is the A400M Atlas aircraft.
Manufactured by Airbus, the Atlas entered service in 2014 and has the ability to carry a 37-tonne payload over 2000 nautical miles to established and remote civilian and military airfields, as well as short unprepared or semi-prepared strips.
It can accommodate as many as 116 fully equipped troops; vehicles; helicopters, including a Chinook; mixed loads, including nine aircraft pallets and 54 passengers; or various combinations of vehicles, pallets and personnel.
A recent example of how this giant of the skies supported frontline humanitarian operations was when the RAF delivered 20 tonnes of lifesaving UK aid supplies to those affected by the devastating cyclone that struck Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in March.
An A400M Atlas aircraft and a crew of ten RAF personnel successfully navigated challenging flying conditions to deliver vital equipment including water filters, solar lanterns, blankets and shelter kits from the Department for International Development (DFID) to survivors of cyclone Idai in Mozambique.
Many villages and landmarks had been submerged by floodwater, stalling all land-based rescue missions and making the delivery of aid by air even more critical.
RAF Air Mobility Force Commander, Air Commodore Dom Stamp, said: “Once more the RAF, with our new Atlas A400M aircraft, has proven our ability to deploy globally, to bring vital aid relief quickly and effectively to those who urgently need it. We are proud to support our international partners in times of crisis and stand ready to do so in the future.”
Subsequently a DFID flight containing over 7500 emergency shelter kits and family tents arrived in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital. This was followed by UK aid flights delivering forklift trucks and other cargo-handling equipment. This reduced the time taken to unload aid from planes, ensuring it reached the survivors of the cyclone more quickly.
Speaking as International Development Secretary at the time, the new Secretary of State for Defence, Penny Mordaunt, said: “The UK Government was one of the first to respond to this crisis and is currently the biggest global donor to the response. It is doing all it can to provide life-saving help to the hundreds of thousands of people left homeless or without food by this devastating cyclone.
“This is undoubtedly one of the biggest natural disasters to hit the region, and our thoughts remain firmly with the victims.”
“The UK aid on board this RAF plane contained essential supplies, which will made a real and immediate difference to the survivors.
The A400M Atlas previously played a crucial role in delivering 17.5 tonnes of UK aid relief to those affected by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Indonesia last year.
On board were 1280 shelter kits and 288 hygiene kits as part of the £3 million pledged by DFID to the relief effort. The aircraft also carried three tonnes of Indonesian supplies, in addition to the complement of UK aid.
The UK aid package again included much-needed air cargo-handling equipment such as a forklift truck and conveyor belt that rapidly increased the rate that humanitarian aid could be transferred off flights and distributed to affected communities. Other equipment such as transport trucks and a lighting tower generator also made the journey.
This enabled a much speedier delivery of aid to those who needed it most by facilitating a greater turnaround of aid-carrying flights at Balikpapan Airport.
It is a sad reality that more humanitarian crises will inevitably occur in the future, but the UK through its fleet of Atlas aircraft will be able to reach out and provide aid to areas with the greatest need.
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