General Ramsés Rueda Rueda, commander of the Colombian Air Force (FAC, in Spanish), spoke with Diálogo during his visit to Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South) at the Naval Air Station Key West, Florida.
Diálogo: What has the evolution of FAC capabilities been like in the fight against narcotrafficking?
General Ramsés Rueda Rueda, commander of the Colombian Air Force: The FAC has built its capabilities with the support of the U.S. government. Thirty years ago, it began to build an air defense system, at first using military radars and U.S. platforms. In 2003, under the Air Bridge Denial (ABD) program — an agreement between Colombia and the United States — we began to operate monitoring platforms unilaterally, integrating information from military and civil radars.
Today we have a vast and robust system that allows us to control most of the Colombian airspace, contributing to an air interdiction strategy with the United States, and we are effective in detecting, locating, identifying, and intercepting narcotrafficking aircraft. We have high operational standards that are the result of our training and experience, and we have built cooperation agreements with other countries in the continent that join the interdiction effort.
Diálogo: What is the current dynamic of narcotrafficking by air, and what does the FAC do to counter this phenomenon?
Gen. Rueda: In the past, before our interdiction strategy with the United States took effect, there were more than 600 alleged narcotrafficking aircraft without flight plans that used the Colombian airspace. Since we integrated our radars and platforms with the United States, we managed to reduce that number by 99.9 percent.
In recent years, we have seen these flights go beyond our territory, but the activity continues to be connected to organized armed groups, criminal gangs, and terrorists that remain in the country. Narcotraffickers move their operations outside the Colombian airspace to avoid the air defense system’s effective control. This change in the dynamics led us to reconsider the strategy in the fight against narcotrafficking, so we expanded our capabilities toward the airspace of partner nations with whom we have signed cooperation agreements, allowing us to develop a synergy and perform combined operations to continue fighting this transnational threat, inside and outside our borders.
Diálogo: What is the FAC’s contribution in the fight against narcotrafficking in Colombia and the region?
Gen. Rueda: We fight this scourge in a direct way, under the ABD. We also share our experience with countries of the region so that they can improve their techniques, tactics, and procedures, improving our coordination to counter the phenomenon together. At the same time, we offer our capabilities to our partners, so that we can integrate capabilities and work as a team in these operations. For example, with Guatemala and the Dominican Republic we have conducted intense work in intelligence, training, and combined operations.
Diálogo: What kind of cooperation is there between the FAC and U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM)?
Gen. Rueda: Colombia and the United States have had a strong, close relationship in the political, military, and commercial fields. Our country has been a responsible recipient of U.S. aid, and we consider them a great partner; together we build important capabilities with this help, which takes the form of equipment, technology, training, intelligence, etc., and we share the same principles, such as respect for international humanitarian law and human rights. It’s this framework of shared responsibility that marks our close working relationship with SOUTHCOM in the strategy against drugs.
Diálogo: How is the FAC preparing to support the region in the event of natural disasters?
Gen. Rueda: Colombia is a very humanitarian country; it has helped Haiti, Chile, Peru, and Mexico when they suffered natural disasters, and it has called on other countries for help in emergency situations. What’s most important is not what we were able to do for them, but what we could do together in the region for mutual support.
The FAC has promoted the operational exercise Angel of the Andes (Ángel de los Andes), an exercise with a humanitarian focus that we will combine with exercise Cooperation VII, organized by the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces, where member nations offer their capabilities to assist in emergencies in the Western Hemisphere.
In Angel of the Andes, we will simulate an earthquake and a tsunami, working in different places of the country to achieve high standards in communications, capacity integration, and an effective response to address any disaster or calamity that affects one or more of the countries in the hemisphere.