On 1 January 2020, EDA commenced its first deployment of civilian, fixed-wing Aeromedical Evacuation (AIRMEDEVAC) services to support Belgian Armed Forces operations in Niger in Africa. Belgian forces are active in several areas throughout Africa, including: Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. In Niger, they are delivering training and operational advice to the Forces Armée Nigériennes (FANER) and operate in austere conditions with only limited medical support facilities.
To provide appropriate medical oversight, the deployment provides an aircraft based, primary life support capability, available 24/7 throughout the designated operational theatre, to move injured personnel from the main Damage Control Surgery Unit in the city of Maradi to definitive care facilities in neighbouring Gao, Chad or, in extremis, for repatriation to Europe.
EDA is no stranger to providing direct support to operations and maintains an entire unit dedicated to operational support, training and exercises. The niche services provided by the Agency, such as those within the EU SatCom Market, offer an attractive and easily accessible turn-key capability to many Member States’ planners. In national and CSDP operations and missions, the provision of certain key capabilities can be challenging. Typically operations or missions are deployed on short notice, in remote areas. In many cases, capabilities are not available and outsourcing is necessary to provide services from private companies. Experience has shown that contracting on the spot under time pressure is not a cost-effective solution. Having in place ready-to-use arrangements is very beneficial in order to reduce the administrative burden and achieve economies of scale.
In 2019, EDA concluded several framework contracts with international aeromedical providers to cover fixed and rotary wing AIRMEDEVAC services in Africa and Europe. The project’s objective was the provision of in-theatre AIRMEDEVAC services to evacuate patients from the point of injury to an initial Medical Treatment Facility (Forward AIRMEDEVAC normally conducted by rotary wing platforms) or fixed-wing transfer between in-theatre Medical Treatment Facilities (Tactical AIRMEDEVAC) to be used in frame of national and/or international defence and/or security operations. The project is designed around military technical requirements developed by EU Military Staff and Member States experts and endorsed by the EU Military Committee.
The EDA AIRMEDEVAC contracts will run until January 2023 for a maximum value of 120 million Euro. The project currently involves four participating Member States (AT, BE, DE and NL) but is also attracting interest from other EU agencies and bodies and look set to grow with further work in hand to examine the provision rotary wing Forward AIRMEDEVAC services later in the year.
The Belgian Defence Staff offered their own comment on the new capability: “This type of contractual vector offers ‘ready-to-use’ solutions allowing quick response to operational needs. EDA is advantageously taking care of procurement process, contracting, invoicing, etc. whilst the customer still keeps the right to take part in the evaluation of tenders by each reopening of competition and also remains responsible for controlling the performance of the contract once signed. The process with EDA is highly professional and quick, offering time and budget savings”.
Aside from direct support to operations, the unit also supports fixed, rotary and unmanned training and exercise activities. Since 2009, it has developed a wide portfolio of advanced tactics courses for European helicopter crews, employing simulator based and live training events covering hot and cold weather operations, both day and night, including weapon drops and support to special forces. Similarly, the Agency continues to support fixed-wing air transport operations under the banner of the European Air Transport Force (EATF) Programme, including capacity building activities for specific fleets (C-295, C-130) and initial training of Medium Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) drone pilots and operators.