Rapid Air Mobility

  • Last updated: 27 Apr. 2020 11:10

NATO’s Rapid Air Mobility (RAM) initiative enables Allied military aircraft to swiftly deploy on short notice across Europe, when activated, during crises. Aircraft are assigned a unique NATO call sign making it easier to move across borders with essential equipment, supplies and personnel, as quickly as possible and in a coordinated manner. In March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, an adapted version of the RAM process was activated to enable the timely transport of medical supplies.

Photo by Turkish Ministry of Defence.

Highlights

  • NATO’s Rapid Air Mobility initiative is part of its wider military mobility effort to boost the readiness and deployment of Allied troops and assets.
  • Allied aircraft receive priority handling by the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) and can quickly deploy on short notice across Europe during a crisis.
  • RAM can be activated during crises in peacetime.
  • The North Atlantic Council has overall political control over RAM, while the authority to activate and run it operationally belongs to SACEUR, one of the two Strategic Commanders.
  • In March 2020, in response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, the initiative was activated to ensure timely delivery of medical supplies to Allies in need.

How does it work?

NATO’s Rapid Air Mobility (RAM) initiative establishes a special NATO call sign (“OAN”) for any aircraft designated by NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) for crisis deployment through fast-track flight planning and airspace handling. The Standing Joint Logistics Support Group at SHAPE monitors and coordinates Allies’ strategic movements.
When an aircraft is allocated the OAN call sign, the European aviation system recognises it as a priority and removes military airspace capacity restrictions for the dedicated flights. These OAN flights receive priority routing through the airspace over Europe. 

NATO worked closely with all the Allies and with the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation (EUROCONTROL) to ensure the process is safe and effective.  The OAN call sign allows EUROCONTROL to remove flight restrictions and coordinate with the relevant air traffic controllers along the flight path, enabling a faster response.

Response to the COVID-19 pandemic

RAM was activated for the first time by the North Atlantic Council on 31 March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has been used to support relief flights carrying supplies critical to the fight against the pandemic. The first of these flights took place on 10 April, facilitating the delivery of medical supplies and personal protective equipment from Turkey to the United Kingdom.
COVID-19 RAM flights incorporate all the same elements of the original intent (NATO call sign, fast-track diplomatic clearance and no route restrictions imposed by EUROCONTROL), but are focused on the rapid transport of medical supplies and other COVID-19 capabilities, such as personnel, using military aircraft.  The activation of the RAM flights is a non-permanent arrangement, the duration of which is determined by the North Atlantic Council, through periodic reviews.

Evolution

At the 2018 NATO Brussels Summit, Allied Heads of State and Government declared initial operational capability for NATO’s Rapid Air Mobility initiative.
On 25 October 2019, NATO Defence Ministers welcomed the RAM initiative in the context of increasing the readiness of NATO forces.

On 31 March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the North Atlantic Council authorised the first-ever activation of RAM for military aircraft carrying medical supplies through Europe’s airspace in support of COVID-19 flights.

On 10 April 2020, RAM facilitated the first military air transport, namely for the delivery of medical supplies and protective equipment from Turkey to the United Kingdom.