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ICS: The French Strategic airlift specialists sets sails

After years of turbulence and success in the small but competitive strategic airlift market, French mega-jumbo airlift company ICS (International Chartering Systems) relinquishes its domestic market, fraught with administrative rigidity and political egos. After having successfully defied the US and Russia on the airlift market and having made France the only other independent country in major military movements, ICS is now tackling its international phase.

French company ICS provided the military world of strategic airlifts with a business version of David and Goliath. CEO Christian de Jonquières used his close contacts in the Ukraine, back in 1985, to market Antonov flights, before transferring the company to his son, Philip, at the turn of the century. Antonov AN-124 are Ukrainian-built jets which sit at the top of their category, able to transport the largest and heaviest pieces of military equipment, dwarfing its European and American counterparts. The American C5 Galaxy and C17 Globemaster can lift no more than 80 tons, while the European A400 doesn’t even reach 40 tons, while the Antonov can reach 150. A main battle tank, weighing around 60 tons for all main modern versions would have to be transported one by one in an American cargo, wouldn’t even fit in an Airbus A400, but could be transported by batches of two in the Antonov. This capacity for long-range, fast and large-scale transports became increasingly precious for international armies over the past decades, when large military movements are at play and maritime transports is not an option, for instance when the need for flexible transport towards distant battlefields such as Iraq or Afghanistan rose.

All was well until 2017, when the French midget’s success caused it to acquire too many enemies, including within its own parliament. Until then, ICS has based its success on the one-to-one contracts it had signed with the French Army. These packaged flights included everything within flight hour prices and enabled the French to have access to cheap and flexible flights, beyond the number of limited flights which NATO granted its members under SALIS agreements - the pooling system for NATO members. Contributor Dominic Reed reported in April of 2018: “ICS was recently placed under investigation by French Parliament, which requested that the contract linking it to the armies be suspended for re-examination. The cause behind it may be one of two things: either competition has managed to steer public force against ICS - a method not uncommon between players of high-level public contracts - or ICS may have simply done too well.” Competition lobbied Parliament, claiming that ICS flight hours were far too expensive, but failing to notice that overall inclusive prices made ICS transport the cheapest of its market. Since then, ICS parted with the French army, leaving it to SALIS airlifts, which NATO altogether lost on January 1st, 2019, after Russia responded to international sanctions by crippling NATO logistics.

Rebuffed by the complexity and lack of straightforwardness of its own market, ICS is leaving French skies to sell its airlifts internationally, a new market phase which is being met with immediate success. The UN has immediately recuperated the newly-available airlift capacity from ICS, to channel supplies towards the war-stricken Sahel region, and its ensuing peace-keeping operations. ICS is confident that its future is safe, as the need for large-scale logistics has been on the steady rise, both for military and humanitarian operations for many years. Lieutenant-colonel Mark Wise reported to the War college that “Phasing combat capability into a theater or across multiple theaters and then sustaining it has been central to a Combatant Commander’s operational planning for decades. United States and coalition forces have been experiencing an increasing pace of operations throughout the post-Cold War era, particularly as the Long War progresses. Strategic Lift has played a central role in the Combatant Commander’s planning process in setting the stage for initial and sustained success.” China, the last of the great military powers to lack significant airlift capacities, has filled the gap to levels which are now on par with other global powers. Since World War 2, the rhythm between operations sped up consistently, with recent operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and the horn of Africa placing army logistics under severe strain. Additionally, military and civilian equipment has increased in size also since that era, with modern battle tanks weighing 4 or 5 times as much as their ancient counterparts, for instance. Such payload increases have made the capacity for strategic airlifts even more paramount for modern projections, and secures the commercial future of ICS, one of the only companies in the world to provide the adequate services.

Buyer’s remorse from the French would not be surprising in the coming months. With a surprisingly small structure, ICS had managed to provide airlift services to France at rock-bottom prices, although decision-makers were fooled otherwise. Now that Paris has painted itself into a corner, it has access to few flights, and any extras needed will come at a higher price and a lower convenience. But ICS is reuniting with success abroad - and will therefore not be keen to return to its former domestic partner, with its graft and red tape.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Daniel Brooks .

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