Belgian NH90s preparing for Mali deployment


Belgium is getting ready to send NH90 helicopters to Mali in early March and is preparing for their deployment with Exercise Duster in Germany.

The Belgian Ministry of Defence said on 26 January that the first aircraft will be shipped to Mali in February, and will start operating in Gao, northern Mali, in early March where the helicopters will mainly be used to transport wounded to specialized emergency stations. The Belgian detachment will cooperate with the Germans who are already active there.

This cooperation is already being prepared through the Duster exercise currently taking place at Germany’s Fassberg Air Base. This is seeing the Belgian contingent respond to various simulated emergency calls, including medical evacuation. The Belgian teams secure the ground and evacuate the wounded while a German combat helicopter provides top cover. After first aid, patients are transported to hospital – in the case of the exercise, to Fassberg air base.

On 23 November 2017 Belgium’s Council of Ministers approved the deployment of the two NH90 helicopters and 50 personnel to Mali. The aircraft will be used for troop transport and medical evacuation. They will be deployed for four months, although this could be extended by another two months, reports Het Laatste Nieuws.

The two NH90s will come from 18 Squadron, 1 Wing, at Beauvechain Air Base. The Belgian Air Force in September/October took part in the Tropical Storm exercise in Gabon in preparation for operating in Mali. Amongst other aircraft, two NH90s took part in the exercise.

Belgium received its final NH90 in March, of eight ordered in June 2007. The country now has four NH90 Caimans in naval configuration, which will from 2018 replace its Sea Kings. Also acquired were four NH90s in tactical transport (TTH) configuration. The latter are operated by 18 Squadron from Beauvechain air base. The first TTH entered service in October 2013 and the last was delivered in November 2014.

The Belgian NH90s will be used to replace four German NH90s currently deployed there. The Bundeswehr also has four Tiger attack helicopters in Mali. One crashed there on 26 July, killing both pilots, but was replaced by another Tiger on 27 October.