Colombia, US Improve UAV Flights
By Julieta Pelcastre/Diálogo September 20, 2018
Colombian Air Force pilots and operators strengthen capabilities in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions.
A U.S. Air Force delegation visited the Colombian Air Force (FAC, in Spanish) Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Academy (EBART, in Spanish) at the Third Air Combat Command in Barranquilla, Colombia, July 16-27, 2018. The objective was to exchange knowledge and experiences in the formation, training, and instruction of pilots and operators of ScanEagle drones.
“The experience exchange was made possible through the ScanEagle Pprocessing, Exploitation, and Dissemination Course, based on the experience of the United States,” FAC Major Daniel Eduardo Martínez, deputy director of EBART, told Diálogo. “The course was a guide to conduct ISR missions [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance], and taught us how to guide an unmanned aerial vehicles [UAV] for this type of missions and make a briefing to conduct a mission.”
Together, nine Colombian officers and the U.S. delegation learned how each air force operates UAV in conventional and asymmetric warfare. “The training will help us improve the doctrine for unmanned aerial vehicles, modernize manuals, strengthen flight operation planning, and improve surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence missions,” FAC First Lieutenant Brayan Higuera, ScanEagle course instructor at EBART, told Diálogo.
FAC operates the tactical surveillance and reconnaissance system since 2006 to support the fight against illegal armed groups and terrorists. The system brought significant results in the identification, surveillance, and reconnaissance of targets, aerial surveillance, support of special operations units, and search and rescue. The highly autonomous aircraft of U.S. manufacturer Boeing Insitu are designed to conduct continuous missions of more than 15 hours and have the capacity to collect and transmit large numbers of images in real time.
Improving the mission
During the course, service members of both countries analyzed mission briefings to obtain good results with the systems. “We focus on the machine and the crew,” Maj. Martínez said.
“[U.S.] officers found it interesting that technicians are included in the Colombian briefing to discuss the system status. Their briefing is between the analyst and the pilot but don’t involve a technician to report flight hours left for the unmanned aerial vehicle,” 1st Lt. Higuera said.
The Colombian squadron learned how U.S. Air Force officers use “exhaustive information” when carrying out missions. “As soon as they have information coming from any human or technical source, they go out and conduct persistent surveillance, meaning around the clock,” 1st Lt. Higuera said. “We should also focus on persistent information.”
New way to operate aircraft
After the course, FAC opted to modify its operation of ScanEagle aircraft to adapt to those of the U.S. Air Force, with target-persistent surveillance. “The course helped [our] air institution promote a new way to operate the aircraft,” Maj. Martínez said.
With this change, FAC will be able to show its UAV platforms to the Colombian Army, Navy, and National Police to increase intelligence efforts and sustained focus on a target. The UAV will also be able to submit more information than what security forces can currently achieve with human intelligence, such as images, video, and target surveillance for tactical maneuvers.
“Air authorities study how the change in operations can help identify and eradicate illegal crops in the country,” Maj. Martínez said. “The ScanEagle can be an important tool in the current fight [against drugs].”
Latin American benchmark
FAC expects to obtain the Boeing Insitu certification by the end of 2018. “The idea is that with the certification, plus the experience we have, EBART will become Latin America’s school for unmanned aerial vehicles. This year  we trained Peruvian personnel and last year  we trained personnel from Chile. Also, the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica are interested in training their crews here, now that they started acquiring unmanned aerial systems,” Maj. Martínez said.
Within a year, EBART plans to include naval personnel in the faculty. Their experience with UAV launched from ships will strengthen the training to be offered to the Colombian Armed Forces and other nations. The school also studies the possibility of bringing instructors from the U.S. Air Force.
“We developed the new unmanned aerial vehicle aviation with the help of the U.S. Air Force. We received a lot of help from them. It’s important because it’s becoming increasingly developed, with more prominence in aviation worldwide,” Maj. Martínez concluded.