By Bryan Walsh on February 11, 2020
Sitting astride one of the world’s most dangerous geographic fault lines, Nepal is regularly ravaged by powerful earthquakes and subsequent landslides and fires. Internationally renowned as a premier mountaineering destination, Nepal is also challenged by glacial lake flooding, which sometimes injures and displaces villagers and trekkers alike. The Nepal Army’s Directorate General of Army Aviation (DGAA) is tasked with disaster response operations in the wake of these emergencies. On December 18, the United States officially handed over two new M-28 Skytruck aircraft to the Nepal Army. A short take-off and landing airplane, the Skytruck is one of the best-suited aircraft for Nepal’s mountainous terrain. The Skytrucks will revolutionize the capacity of DGAA’s humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.
Randy Berry, U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, formally handed the aircraft over to Lieutenant General Sharad Giri, the Nepal Army’s Chief of General Staff, at a ceremony at Tribhuvan International Airport. Ambassador Berry noted that the aircraft symbolize our partnership and show that the United States and Nepal are “close where it counts.”
The aircraft were funded through a $15 million Foreign Military Financing program that represents the largest security assistance grant program in more than 70-year history of U.S.-Nepal bilateral relations.
Much of Nepal’s population lives in mountain valleys that become difficult or impossible to access following a natural disaster. As just one example of the dangers faced, in April 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck northwest of Kathmandu, killing nearly 9,000 people and injuring an additional 22,000. Skytrucks enhance the Nepal Army’s ability to quickly access remote parts of the country, deliver critical relief supplies and medical treatment to disaster victims, and, if need be, conduct evacuation operations. The aircraft have a payload capacity of over 5,000 pounds and can reach an altitude of 25,000 feet.
Ambassador Berry touted the ‘total package approach’ to U.S. security cooperation programs. Unlike many other countries, the United States aims to not only provide equipment, but also well-trained personnel, equipment that is best suited for recipient countries’ context and operating environment, as well as follow-on support and training to ensure long-term usefulness. The ‘total package approach’ carefully considers our partners’ ability to independently sustain platforms in the long-term and avoids equipment that will unduly burden their budgetary resources. Sustainable investment in our partners is one of our key priorities and is a major tenet of a free and open international order.
In the coming years, the United States will provide additional Skytrucks to the DGAA as well as tailored training for the Army’s disaster response units—enhancing their capability to effectively protect the Nepali people. These initiatives demonstrate the collaborative and close partnership between our two countries in strengthening Nepal’s long-term sustainability, security, and resilience.
About the author: Bryan Walsh serves as a Foreign Affairs Officer in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs,* Office of Security Assistance at the U.S. Department of State.*