El Salvador Joins SOUTHCOM Radar System to Combat Drug Trafficking

El Salvador Joins SOUTHCOM Radar System to Combat Drug Trafficking

By Geraldine Cook
February 11, 2016

The Cooperative Situational Information Integration System enables the sharing of aerial radar trace information and allows for real-time communication between operators in different countries.

To improve the exchange of information that facilitates aerial counter-narcotics operations, El Salvador integrated its air traffic control radars into the U.S. Southern Command’s (SOUTHCOM) Cooperative Situational Information Integration System (CSII). The integration became official with the signing of an agreement between El Salvador’s Autonomous Executive Port Commission (CEPA) and the United States through their embassy in El Salvador on December 15th.

“The Office of Security Cooperation (OSC) in the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador will design the integration procedure and then install the system on the CEPA equipment,” explained the SOUTHCOM representative in El Salvador, Major Stanley Medykowski. The CSII is a response to the need to strengthen the multilateral exchange of information and optimize the resources that each country has to combat the threat of drug trafficking.

Using an online system, the CSII shares unclassified information – such as aerial, maritime, and terrestrial radar traces – on an operational map. This allows the radar operators to monitor the movement of vessels and aircraft, represented by dots and lines, on a computer screen.

“Each user [country] can define its operational map and can tailor its profile to display the radar traces of interest to it, in accordance with its operational requirements,” Maj. Medykowski said. “Through the CSII, it is even possible to chat, with automatic translation between English and Spanish, with other officers in other countries.”

Through this exchange of information, the countries participating in the system can organize interdictions that sometimes start in international waters, continue along the maritime borders of one nation and end on the shores of another. The Joint Interagency Task Force South is responsible for coordinating the system from its headquarters in Key West, Florida, as well as integrating the Salvadoran radar system, of which the costs of provision and maintenance are the OSC’s responsibility.

CSII throughout the region

SOUTHCOM plans to expand the CSII throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, according to Colonel Robert A. Wagner, Commander of the OSC at the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador.

“The CSII obtained its initial operational capability in September 2012, the result of many years of effort to improve the way situational information is shared among partner countries,” Col. Wagner explained after signing the agreement on December 15th. “With this project, we have extended the scope of the system to detect more illicit air traffic.”

The system also adds information collected by the U.S. Navy’s Relocatable Over-The-Horizon Radar. This equipment creates images of objects identified by the radar on the screens of users.

“The CSII provides partner nations greater flexibility in the exchange of information,” said U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Matthew Johnson, a SOUTHCOM Information Domain Officer and CSII Program Administrator. “We will continue working to improve the implementation capacity and promote the adherence of more partner countries.”

Radar Control Center

By participating in the CSII, El Salvador will upload information from primary and secondary civil radars to the CSII to improve security forces’ ability to detect drug-trafficking operations in El Salvador’s skies, CEPA President Nelson Vanegas said. The primary radars use the reflection of electromagnetic waves to determine the distance and direction of the aircraft with respect to the radar station. Meanwhile, the secondary radars are installed in the aircraft so that when the ground station interrogates the aircraft, it responds, and its response establishes its position, altitude, and identification (cooperative surveillance).

“For CEPA it is very important to faithfully implement the agreement signed between the governments of El Salvador and the United States, to help integrate the radars of the [Monsignor Oscar Arnulfo Romero] International Airport, and strengthen aerial anti-narcotics operations in El Salvador,” Vanegas said during the signing of the agreement.

Since August 2014, CEPA has utilized a modern Radar Control Center, with support from the Central American Corporation for Air Navigation Services (COCESNA, for its Spanish acronym). CEPA invested $2.5 million and COCESNA contributed approximately $1.7 million to the new radar system, which has 17 consoles in the Radar Room and Control Tower at the international airport, allowing more precise communication with aircraft and air traffic control.

El Salvador has also had access to the WIFS/WAFS Internet File Service since October 2014. The platform stores information about forecasts for temperature, wind speed and direction, temperature and humidity at altitude, maximum wind speed and direction, and satellite images of the origin and destination airports for aircraft. This system meets the technical requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization and the World Meteorological Organization for receiving information. The country also is the only one in Central America to have a Meteorological Observation Terrace, whose radars receive weather information to ensure safe flight conditions.