Protecting two seas, nine maritime borders, and confronting Colombia’s internal and external threats are Colombian Navy Commander Admiral Gabriel Alfonso Pérez Garcés’ main tasks. This is possible, he says in conversation with Diálogo, thanks to the personnel’s high level of professionalism, the institution’s national and international prestige, its technological means, and suitable naval and river fleet. The institution, he says, also has a broad capacity to support the population with humanitarian aid.
Adm. Pérez spoke from the command about the Navy’s advances in the frontal fight against criminal organizations, his military experience, and upcoming technological advances.
Diálogo: The Navy’s operations have dealt heavy blows to narcotrafficking. What kind of combined and joint operations do you carry out for success?
Admiral Gabriel Alfonso Pérez Garcés, commander of the Colombian Navy: To be successful in the fight against drugs, the Navy carries out joint operations with the Army and the Colombian Air Force in the areas under its jurisdiction. It also carries out coordinated operations with the National Police and interinstitutional operations with other Colombian State entities, such as the Attorney General’s Office, the National Tax and Customs Directorate, and the Financial Information and Analysis Unit, among others.
This institutional synergy is set up as a Unified Action of the State and the Military Forces, which allows for strategic objectives to be achieved — objectives that were established by the National Strategic Direction to affect the structures of narcotrafficking throughout its chains, including cultivation, processing, transport, and income from the commercialization of illicit drugs.
In addition, the institution promotes and participates in the design of bilateral and multilateral strategies to increase both the exchange of intelligence information and the elaboration of a common and shared maritime situational awareness to anticipate any type of threat associated with the maritime domain.
These strategies include the art and operational design of the Orion Naval Counternarcotics Campaign, which involves more than 40 countries and 102 agencies or institutions of a heterogeneous nature, including navies, air, and land forces, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, police and customs, among others. Other examples of binational and multinational operations against narfcotrafficking in which the Colombian Navy actively participates are “Tucane Royal” with France; “COL-HOL” with the Netherlands; and “Kraken” with the United States, Panama, and Costa Rica, among others.
Diálogo: What is the added value of the Orion Naval Counternarcotics Campaign?
Adm. Pérez: The added value is the generation of trust and awareness of the concept of shared responsibility among all its participants. Shared responsibility makes it possible to define the strategic objective of the campaign, which is the disruption of narcotrafficking, while trust strengthens and energizes the multilateral processes of maritime operational coordination, adding efforts and capabilities toward the common strategic objective.
The impact of Orion’s added value is reflected in its results after four years of execution: 2,292 drug traffickers captured, and 546 tons of cocaine seized. According to U.S. Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF South), this operation prevented 5,460 overdose deaths and 273,000 new users in the U.S., while negatively affecting narcotrafficking finances and illegal revenues by approximately $18.4 billion.
Diálogo: How is the Navy preparing to stop the passage of “narco-submarines”?
Pérez: As part of the anti-drug strategy called the Naval Network – Sum of Effort and Capacity, the Navy created the International Maritime Counternarcotics Analysis Center (CIMCON, in Spanish), whose objective is aimed at generating knowledge and understanding of the behavior of the illegal narcotrafficking system to support intelligence and operational decision-making processes. Among other activities, CIMCON analyzes in detail the means of maritime transport of illegal drugs, including semisubmersibles and submersibles.
As a result of this process, the Navy has improved its capabilities, procedures, and training for the detection and interdiction of semisubmersibles and submersibles from small radar anomalies on the surface of the sea, as well as for the reconnaissance and surveillance of difficult to access geographical areas where these types of devices are manufactured, assembled, loaded, and launched. This improvement leads to a greater quantity and better quality of relevant naval intelligence information, to the ensuing detection and disruption of semisubmersibles and submersibles, and to the dismantling of organizations involved in their manufacture.
Diálogo: One of the Navy’s activities is to counteract illegal fishing. What progress are you making against this scourge?
Adm. Pérez: One of the five activities that the Navy contemplates within the so-called “Naval Pentagon” is environmental security, which has as its purpose protecting seas and rivers, preventing pollution, fighting against the illicit trafficking of species, controlling the irrational exploitation of resources, and protecting species in danger of extinction, or when there are bans, all the actions necessary to counteract illegal fishing.
Through the Artemis Naval plan, the Navy protects biodiversity and natural resources by conducting naval operations with the support of the State’s Unified Action, which allows for a proactive and decisive attitude to prevent the presence of motorboats that carry out illegal fishing activities.
Thanks to this, in the last four-year period, more than 119 tons of illegal fish were seized, and 55 vessels were detained, which together have a fishing potential of 1,856 tons per year.
Diálogo: How is the Navy contributing to the national effort to guarantee citizen security in the upcoming presidential elections?
Pérez: The Navy is working in a joint, coordinated, and interagency way with other military and government institutions to guarantee citizen security in the upcoming presidential elections. This task is carried out under the guidelines given by the Ministry of National Defense through the Agora plan and by the Military Forces’ General Command through the Democracy 2022 plan. To this end, the Navy implemented maritime, river, and land security measures with more than 5,800 crew members, aimed at anticipating and mitigating any intention to affect the normal development of the presidential elections.
Diálogo: You were the Colombian Navy’s liaison officer at JIATF South. How has that experience helped you strengthen the Navy’s interagency work?
Adm. Pérez: The experience as liaison officer at JIATF South has helped me strengthen the Navy’s interagency work in three main aspects.
The first is related to understanding the importance of creating coordination points, which are indispensable for a secure and expeditious flow of communication between the forces, institutions, agencies, and organizations with which we work.
The second is the priority need to define a common interest or objective toward which all participants in the organization are committed to make human, economic, and military resources available.
Last but not least, it is essential to build trust among the participants, especially when working with non-military agencies where trust is built on cooperation and coordination, rather than the exercise of command and control.
Diálogo: What progress is being made in the Shipbuilding and Optimization Plan, PROCYON (per its Spanish acronym)?
Pérez: PROCYON aims to preserve the Navy’s strategic capabilities for defense and territorial integrity through an effort to build and acquire new platforms and to maintain and optimize existing ones until the end of their useful life. The plan is also based on the concept of the use of the fleet and its maneuver, that is, it is conceived from the operational need and considers the balances between the defense and security capabilities required by the State to achieve its goals and protect its interests.
PROCYON integrates and pulls the industrial, technological, and academic development vectors from the existing bases of the national shipbuilding and defense industry with direct impact on the sectors the government prioritizes, such as the transport industries (automotive, shipbuilding, and aerospace) and the industries of the Fourth Industrial Revolution 4.0. This plan is being advanced within the panorama of progress defined in the Naval Development Plan with a vision to 2042, with an initial emphasis on budgetary planning to ensure resources in the mid and long term.