Air Forces of the Americas: Ready for Disaster Response
By Juan Delgado/Diálogo May 02, 2019From April 3-12, the Argentine Air Force’s (FAA, in Spanish) 4th Air Brigade, located in Mendoza province, hosted the humanitarian assistance exercise Cooperation VI (Cooperación VI). Thirteen member nations of the System of Cooperation among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA, in Spanish) participated in the international virtual training event.
The objective was to standardize air forces’ procedures in case of a natural disaster in the region. The exercise also integrated participants’ capabilities and reinforced planning and execution of air operations.
Ai force delegations of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Panama, Peru, the United States, and Uruguay coordinated efforts during Cooperation VI. A total of 120 officers took part in the exercise, which simulated an earthquake in the central Colombian region of Magdalena Medio.
“The importance of Cooperation VI is that the air forces of the Americas are committed to helping a nation in case of a natural disaster,” said FAA Major General Alejandro Maroni, exercise director. “Aerial assets are first to arrive; they’re the quickest and most efficient way to reach an area in case of disaster.”
To carry out the simulated event, participants formed a combined general staff that enabled them to use SICOFAA doctrines and assess their coordination and interoperability. Planning and execution procedures included search-and-rescue operations, ground observation, and victim evacuation and transport, among others.
“The exercise focused purely on humanitarian assistance, and the objective was to put our capabilities to the test by using aerial assets from all countries,” said Dominican Republic Air Force Colonel Mario Rivas Días, SICOFAA’s secretary general. “This way, we can strengthen our operational capabilities in case of an event or disaster in a country. We are pleased to be able to carry out this exercise in Mendoza, always ready to respond when we are most needed.”
In addition to establishing a combined general staff, participants implemented a legal division to have the support of lawyers and military advisers when developing complex operations. Another division consisted of civil-military cooperation to connect different military institutions, non-governmental organizations, and the civil population. “Civil-military relations are very important, because [all] organizations must be connected to be able to address every requirement and direct it through the general staff that was implemented,” said Uruguayan Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Juan Pereyra, who was part of the civil-military cooperation team.
To carry out their tasks, officers used computer programs such as the Aerial Logistics Unified Module (MULA, in Spanish), a humanitarian assistance software developed by FAA. The program is used to plan flight missions and assign loads and transport of materials needed in combined air operations in case of natural or man-made disasters. SICOFAA adopted MULA to plan exercises and real operations.
Cooperation VI allowed participants to prepare for the real exercise of the same name, which will be conducted with aerial assets of SICOFAA countries in Rionegro, Colombia, in 2020. Exercise Cooperation has been carried out since 2010 and represents SICOFAA’s new operational approach for humanitarian assistance in case of disaster. The institution has 21 member nations from the Americas. Training enables them to refine their combined response capabilities in real events.
In 2017, exercise Cooperation V was expected to take place in Puerto Montt, Chile, but was suspended to redirect aerial resources and provide humanitarian assistance following the earthquake in Mexico. That same year, SICOFAA took part in humanitarian response operations for the floods in northern Peru. In 2018, SICOFAA also supported Guatemalan efforts after the Fuego Volcano eruption.
According to participants, the virtual exercise was a great success. “It’s been an amazing experience, as we worked hard to share lessons learned that will help us keep improving the system, such as our doctrine levels in manuals, and be somehow prepared and ready to provide an efficient response when needed,” said Ecuadorean Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Xavier Coral.
Col. Díaz praised the camaraderie shown during Cooperation VI. “It’s a fundamental element, because it reinforces bonds of fraternity, friendship, and cooperation,” the officer concluded. “We showed work synergy, all as a team, a single mechanism, a united front that makes operations easier to perform, and always bearing in mind our motto: United, Allied.”