Chilean and Argentine Militaries Unite during Solidarity 2016
By Carolina Contreras/Diálogo December 15, 2016Chile’s and Argentina’s navies, armies, and air forces are ready to aid the population in the event of a natural disaster in either of the two countries at any time. Those were the conclusions reached by the military authorities of both countries on November 24, after evaluating the Solidarity 2016 Exercise, which was conducted from October 4-7. “(Solidarity) confirmed the coordination that exists between both countries’ defense institutions for organizing and providing mutual support. It also tested our compliance with the standards and protocols established for that,” said Air Force General Arturo Merino Núñez, chairman of Chile’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. This exercise provides training on combined joint military response capabilities and interoperability between the two militaries in order to confront a natural disaster, as provided by the Agreement for Cooperation in the Area of Disasters signed by Chile and Argentina in 1997. If needed, one country would assist the other. Since 2001, this exercise has been held every two years, alternating between both nations. Unlike other kinds of military training, Solidarity includes a military staff representing the personnel who would be dispatched in an actual emergency situation. The staff deployment depends on the needs that arise from the threat covered under the training. This year, 142 Chilean and 858 Argentine service members were deployed, in addition to airplanes, land and sea transport vehicles, and civil defense units. Remembering lessons learned During the process of compiling the experiences and lessons learned, “the service members showed a high degree of professionalism, which enabled them to carry out advanced-level training without any setbacks and with a high degree of effectiveness,” said Gen. Merino Núñez. As part of Solidarity 2016, the personnel responsible for resources in the event of an actual disaster established contact and ties among each other, “something that allows for more efficient communication when the time comes for implementation,” said Argentine Army Colonel José Antonio Saumell Robert, who led this eighth edition of Solidarity, in San Martín de los Andes, Argentina. Training by land, air, and sea Solidarity has land, air, and sea components, and it tests the armed forces’ joint-response capabilities when faced with a natural disaster. This year, the training exercises revolved around a volcanic eruption. This, after the April 22, 2015 eruption of Calbuco, the third most dangerous volcano in Chile, which threatened the population of Los Lagos region, and the provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro, and Chubut on the Argentine side of the border. The training taught them how to deal with such an emergency. During the volcanic eruption drill, 10 operational simulations were performed: volcanic eruption, forest fires, joint air operations, water purification in case of pollution, underwater search operations, setting up field hospitals, and the search and rescue of people trapped in collapsed structures. In each operation, the service members had to demonstrate their abilities on land, jumping from moving helicopters, making transport runs in speedboats, and providing medical care. From this experience, procedures were established for dealing with volcanic disasters, and the action protocols used by the Support Implementation Unit, which is in charge of operational and administrative tasks in the event of an actual disaster, were modified. For example, after mobilizing support personnel and resources from one country to another, “administrative details that cannot be clearly identified when carrying out simulated movements were ascertained,” Gen. Merino Núñez explained. In Chile’s case, the process involved determining which resources to employ, and how to prepare, transport, and use them in Argentine territory and then return them to Chile. This logistical, administrative, and leadership challenge was assessed satisfactorily by Gen. Merino Núñez, who highlighted the joint capabilities developed to carry out these kinds of activities. One of the exercises dealt with underwater search and recovery of bodies, aided by sonar technology. Twenty-one service members from the tactical divers and Marine Corps Commandos of the Chilean Navy’s Special Forces Command took part in this exercise, together with their trans-Andean peers. Members of this team provided aid to the population during the earthquake and tsunamis that struck the south of Chile in 2010. “Given that history, they knew how to expand their capabilities to support the citizenry,” said Vice Admiral José Miguel Rivera, commander of Naval Operations for the Chilean Navy. The air contingent comprised 25 service members from the 3rd Air Brigade of the Chilean Air Force (FACh, per its Spanish acronym), who trained on evacuating people from collapsed structures, aided by a Bell 412 helicopter and a FACh search and rescue unit. Seventy-three Chilean Army service members participated in cooperation system command-and-control procedures, testing the degree of effectiveness of the liaison methods and the communications employed by the participating entities. The armed forces’ response capabilities in the face of a volcanic eruption, which they simulated in Solidarity 2016, were added to their capabilities for confronting earthquakes and tsunamis after the 2014 exercise, and massive earthquakes after the 2012 exercise. “The synchronization and synergy that we have achieved with the Armed Forces of Argentina demonstrate that the job of supporting our people knows no boundaries and pushes the limits when answering the call for help imposed by nature,” Gen. Merino Núñez concluded. The next Solidarity Exercise will be held in Chile in 2018. The city and the theme to be developed will be determined next year.