Value of Air (and Sea) Projection in HADR

Aerial warfare has be around for little over a century, and it has played its part in shaping the battlefield.

When a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the peaceful country of Nepal on 25 April 2015, wide scale destruction was seen across the capital city of Kathmandu. More than 8 million people were affected and the country called out for international assistance as it struggles to cope Nepal’s worst disaster in 80 years.

Over 15 countries had responded but as international aid arrived, they soon faced with the growing problem of accessibility into one of the most remote country in Asia. Perched at one of the highest points on Earth, Nepal is isolated by poorly maintained unpaved road and air travel is probably is most optimal way to enter and exit the country. A Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operation to the Nepal Earthquake is unlike any other multi-lateral humanitarian missions in recent times

In the case of Typhoon Haiyan and Cyclone Pam, the disaster zone was situated along coastal region of the Philippines and Vanuatu respectively. A bulk of emergency aid and supplies came from the sea. The United States for example, much of the supplies arrived in the form of a large sea armada consisting of the USS George Washington Carrier Group, USNS Charles Drew supply ship, USS Emory S. Land tender, amphibious ships USS Denver, USS Ashland and USS Germantown, and at least eight other ships to assist in the delivery of aid and relief effort. The close proximity of the disaster zone to sea enables quick and easy shuttles for the ship-shore vessels as well as helicopters and are supplemented by heavy lift cargo aircraft ferrying aid workers and supplies from their respective countries.

Despite an impressive air projection from nations like Singapore, India and the United Sates, land-locked Nepal’s only international airport, Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport struggles to handle the influx of aid and commercial aircraft, coupled with inclement weather and turbulence. A number of military aircraft were diverted away to various Indian Airport and only to return after. Aid can only come as fast as the airport can handle, and air capability in the country.

“The helicopters are small. They don’t fly in windy and cloudy conditions. Given Nepal’s geographical terrain, we cannot use surface transport much but are using it,” said Nepali Home Ministry Joint Secretary Sagar Mani Parajuli.

Helicopters from the Indian Air Force now join relief efforts with Nepal’s small air force and choppers from various commercial firms.

The capability of helicopters and air power are solely demonstrated here, we saw the value of sea projection, which is sometimes taken for granted. Surface assets remain to be the most cost effective and practical way of en massing large tonnage of supplies and people. Its stationing ability with allows a constant presence, and with its in-house communication suite executing command and control of its relief forces on the ground. Depending on the area of ops and geographical features, they operate independent from C2 units i.e. Nepal air traffic.

The air relief effort is a boost to participating nation’s commitment to defence, delivering aid to Nepal and at the same time bringing back their respective nationals home, to the relief of family and friends. It is a timely reminder to citizens that such air (and sea) projection is a result of steady investments and support to their armed forces.

CnB would like to send our deepest condolences to the people of Nepal and wishing them a quick recovery to their infrastructure.


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