Unified Skies: AMC and NATO


The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a vital force for furthering the United States’ international security goals. As evidenced during world events such as the COVID­-19 pandemic, this alliance is more valuable than ever. Air Mobility Command (AMC) fulfills a significant role in NATO by providing military and humanitarian aid across NATO territory. Likewise, NATO member nations assist AMC’s mission in a myriad of ways.


NATO was founded in 1949 as a bulwark against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. NATO members commit to defending each other against unprovoked attacks from external parties. The current alliance consists of the United States; Canada; major European nations including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom; and 25 other member states in Europe. In addition to the mutual defensive pact, member nations share resources such as military intelligence, expertise, and equipment.


NATO furthers AMC’s Rapid Global Mobility vision by allowing access to worldwide airspace. The Rapid Global Mobility initiative seeks to provide global mobility for the successful deployment of allied aircraft around the globe. NATO allies allow AMC and other commands to carry out missions across their borders and supply the U.S. military with direct aid, which further assists AMC’s goals.


One of the main links between AMC and NATO is the 521st Air Mobility Operations Wing (AMOW), which is based at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The 521 AMOW is the only AMC wing residing in Europe and consists of over 2,700 personnel divided into two groups and 10 squadrons, with 14 geographically separated units located across 18 sites in 13 countries. The wing provides all command and control, enroute maintenance support, and air transportation services for theater and strategic air mobility missions in Europe and Southwest Asia.

The 521 AMOW has been recognized for its accomplishments and top-of-the-line standards. It has a storied military history and has completed humanitarian missions such as COVID-19 response activities, developing new protocols for crew safety after visits to high-infection areas. The wing conducted the largest humanitarian airlift operation in history, transporting over 34,000 Afghans to Ramstein Air Base during the 2021 evacuation of Afghanistan. It has received prestigious accolades for these and other triumphs, including seven Air Force Meritorious Unit Awards and two Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards. As an example of military excellence, the 521 AMOW is an important piece of America’s contribution to NATO. During a future humanitarian or military crisis, the wing will be able to exercise its unparalleled skills to aid NATO operations.


AMC benefits from NATO resources and cooperates with NATO to complete military objectives. For a recent example, in February 2022, AMC was tasked with transporting approximately 3,000 U.S. Army personnel to the European Theater to help bolster NATO defenses in the wake of Russian military build-up on the Ukrainian border. NATO contributes to these and other AMC missions with its Rapid Air Mobility (RAM) initiative and air mission support.

The RAM initiative provides all allied aircraft on RAM missions with a spe­cial callsign to allow them to traverse national borders quickly. This doctrine was used to great effect during the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, as members of NATO used the callsign system to deliver medical supplies to viral hotspots quickly. From April 26 to April 28, 2021, NATO allies conducted a test of this system, which involved a simulated deployment of allied aircraft in cross-border military movements. This system provides allied aircraft, including those from AMC, with a convenient method to cross interna­tional borders for their missions.

Beyond the RAM initiative, NATO allies provide in-flight assistance to friendly aircraft, easing the burden on AMC. For example, in 2020, a Dutch KDC­-10 from the 334th Squadron, Royal Netherlands Air Force, Eindhoven Air Base, Netherlands, helped refuel a B-1B Lancer during a 23-hour mission. Another instance in 2020 involved Turkish KC-135 Stratotankers helping a B-1B to complete a 29-hour mission. This type of aid supports all NATO members and helps the AMC manage its own resources.


As a component of the U.S. Air Force, AMC has the ability to carry out rapid airlifting, aerial refueling, and humanitarian missions around the globe. These skills, exemplified in the 521 AMOW and other wings, will enable the AMC to help fulfill NATO’s mission to defend all its member nations.