Antonov An-124 Airlifter Transports Belgian Air Force NH90 Helicopters to Mali

Antonov An-124 has landed at Beauvechain Air Base near Brussels, Belgium to transport two Belgian Air Force NH90 helicopters to Mali, on Monday, Feb. 5.

The helicopters will participate in the UN MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) mission for at least four months.

The NH90s, accompanied by twelve technicians who made the trip in the same Antonov, arrived in Bamako, the capital of Mali, on the same day. The technicians had made the helicopters operational in three days. In Mali, Belgian helicopters will mainly transport troops and wounded. These missions will be made from Gao in the north-east of the country. They will operate within an already installed German detachment.

Belgium is also sending a detachment composed of about fifty soldiers to start field operations on Feb. 9.

This is the second time, an An-124 is landing at the base. It is the world’s largest mass produced transport aircraft and is only behind its larger sibling, the one-off Antonov An-225 ‘Mriya’.

The Antonov An-124-100 aircraft used for transport was from the Russian company Volga-Dnepr. The chartering of this aircraft is carried out under NATO’s Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS ) program. Through this program, NATO compensates for the shortage of strategic transport aircraft pending the delivery of new Airbus A400M Atlas aircraft already ordered. An NH90 helicopter can not be loaded on Belgian C-130 Hercules aircraft.

Flying helicopters to Mali is not a great option. The distance being too great, the trip would require too many hours of expensive flight – hours spent at the expense of the operation for which these machines are really intended. The cost of maintenance and repairs would also be too high.

Belgian Air Force NH90 Caiman
Belgian Air Force NH90 Caiman helicopter. Photo Credit: Bart Rosselle/ Belgian Air Force

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