Salvadoran service members will travel to Mali in September to operate as air and land escorts and provide transport.
United Nations (UN) delegates screened the equipment and flight technology the Salvadoran Air Force’s (FAS, in Spanish) Gavilán I Air Contingent will use as it joins the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA, in French) in September 2018. UN experts carried out the second-to-last inspection at the Combat Helicopter Air Unit (UAHA, in Spanish) of FAS’s First Air Brigade in Ilopango municipality, July 30th.
“Delegates evaluated and verified operational and logistics capabilities of our personnel and supervised the refurbishing of three MD 500 assault helicopters to be deployed in the city of Gao, in northeastern Mali,” said FAS Colonel Eduardo Salazar, UAHA commander. “The evaluation was successful thanks to the personnel’s efforts and dedication, their knowledge, and the skills they developed in the field.”
The Gavilán I contingent will consist of pilots and specialists in communication, maintenance, and weaponry. “This is the third air contingent FAS deploys in MINUSMA; it will work simultaneously with the Torogoz IV contingent and the Airfield Ground Services Unit,” Salvadoran Minister of Defense David Munguía Payés said during the UN experts’ visit. “Their mission will be to provide air and land escort, and air fire support when required. We contribute to international security and peace by supporting transition authorities.”
The most outstanding work of Gavilán I’s maintenance team is the full installation of different systems in three helicopters. “Our personnel excelled in adapting the avionics equipment the United Nations requires, including GPS; emergency locator transmitters; cabin audio and video systems for pilots, and VHF communications; and the filtering system to prevent polluting dust from entering the engines,” said FAS Chief Master Sergeant Alex Fuentes, UAHA maintenance supervisor.
Service members will transport the three helicopters on a cargo plane, along with basic aircraft maintenance equipment. “The main equipment will be transported by sea in containers. [Trucks], micro-buses, and an electric plant will be included, as well as medium and large capacity power generators,” Col. Salazar said.
UAHA is an elite team within FAS. “Our unit is trained to carry out operations such as reconnaissance and observation, personnel transport, medical evacuation, escort, and air fire support when necessary,” Chief Master Sgt. Fuentes said.
Maintenance personnel traveling to Gao were selected based on practical capabilities and experience. The contingent consists of 12 service members specialized in avionics, radio communications, aircraft electrical systems, instruments, metal frame construction, air weaponry, supplies, and aerospace support equipment.
According to FAS authorities, the personnel’s constant training, especially maintenance personnel, who received different training at avionics companies of the United States, made UN delegates’ approval possible. “They recently took part in a training event on engines, to learn to solve machines’ most common failures. This makes us more competent,” Col. Salazar said.
To take over the new mission, the maintenance squadron has a test pilot in charge of analyzing the equipment on the ground and doing test flights to certify the aircraft is in optimal condition to fly in Gao. “We are also equipped with spare parts, accessories, tools, and aviation equipment,” Chief Master Sgt. Fuentes said.
The Salvadoran contingent will be based in Camp Castor, with service members from Austria, Canada, Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. The camp, managed by German service members, was built in 2014, and is separated from the so-called “super-camp” that hosts almost all peacekeeping troops. The Gavilán I contingent will replace the German assault helicopters group and conduct combined work with European countries and Canada, which recently joined to strengthen the camp with air transport resources.