The Strategic Airlift Capability (SAC), based in Pápa, Hungary is an independent and multinational programme that provides assured access to strategic military airlift capability for its 12 member nations – including during times of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Relying on certain NATO support structures, the Alliance say that the SAC transcends the military and political alliance and is governed by the SAC Steering Board that exercises overall responsibility for the guidance, execution and oversight of the programme.
“With the SAC Memorandum of Understanding the programme was established in September 2008 and has a life cycle of 30 years as a minimum. SAC member nations are NATO Allies Hungary (host nation), Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and the United States, and NATO Partnership for Peace nations Finland and Sweden.
The Heavy Airlift Wing is the military operational unit of the SAC, it is composed of 145 personnel from the SAC member nations. The HAW operates three Boeing C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft in response to SAC member nations’ mission requirements. The missions are allocated in accordance with a pre-agreed distribution of flight hours. While SAC missions are flown independently of NATO’s chain of command, the C-17s are registered and flagged in Hungary, and all SAC nations share the operational costs based on their flight hour commitments to the programme.”
“SAC is a proven example of the concepts of ‘Smart Defence’ and ‘Pooling & Sharing’ developed successfully from an idea to reality. Collective ownership and operation of strategic airlift assets ensures cost-effectiveness”, said Colonel James S. Sparrow, Commander of the Heavy Airlift Wing (HAW).
In 2019, the SAC celebrated 10 years of global strategic airlift operations. In those ten years SAC C-17s have flown almost 29,000 hours on more than 2,500 missions, delivered 180 million lbs. (82,000 tons) of cargo and carried more than 136,000 passengers.