Air force commanders from 21 countries celebrated the LIX Conference of Chiefs of the American Air Forces (CONJEFAMER, in Spanish) June 17-21, 2019, in San Salvador, El Salvador. The annual meeting strengthens and integrates the capabilities of the System of Cooperation Among American Air Forces (SICOFAA, in Spanish), to address local and regional emergencies and disasters. It also establishes new coordination and cooperation channels to exchange experiences, knowledge, and training.
“We are stronger together, and one of our main asymmetrical advantages is the ability to identify common interests that converge not only in military aspects, but also in the economic and social fields,” said General David L. Goldfein, chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, at the inauguration ceremony. “Hemispheric partnerships are the key. From the perspective of partner capabilities and cooperation development, our commitment is important and reflects our enduring promise of friendship, partnership, and solidarity in the Americas.”
El Salvador organized the conference for the first time, in which major disaster emergency simulations were designed and coordinated. “These exercises are conducted with fighter or transport aircraft. We conduct instruction, military training, and exchanges,” said U.S. Air Force Major General Andrew Croft, commander of the 12th Air Force/Air Forces Southern, a component of U.S. Southern Command. “Central and South American colleagues will come to the United States and vice versa. These exchanges are long term, and might be one of our main strengths over time.”
During the conferences, organizers plan a virtual and a real exercise. SICOFAA uses virtual tools to organize all the information during the exercise, and to standardize the processes and protocols for each situation.
In April 2019, Argentina organized the virtual training event Cooperation VI. “The training simulated an earthquake and a tsunami in two regions in Colombia. It consisted of preparation for the real exercise,” said Brigadier General Enrique Amrein, chief of the Argentine Air Force General Staff. “We used software to plan flight missions, assign cargo, and transport necessary elements in combined air operations in areas devastated by natural or man-made disasters.”
A few days after this virtual training was over, Ecuador suffered floods and landslides. “We put into practice what we had prepared virtually,” Brig. Gen. Amrein said. “We put in practice all the effort coordination and procedure standardization in a real situation. That’s why it’s so convenient to do these exercises, both real and virtual.”
“Every year, we try to innovate and streamline the transport of victims as well as to obtain permits to avoid bureaucracy,” said Colonel Manuel Calderón, chief of the Salvadoran Air Force General Staff. “We constantly improve our information system, because it’s important to have a reliable flow of information.”
Member nations also offer and receive training in specific areas, thanks to the bonds of friendship and cooperation forged during conferences. For instance, El Salvador provided training on helicopter maintenance to Panama and humanitarian assistance to Mexico and Haiti for emergency situations.
CONJEFAMER’s next exercise is Cooperation VII, also known as Ángel de los Andes, to be conducted in Colombia in April 2020. “We’ll conduct the practical phase in Argentina and invite other countries, such as France, the Netherlands, and Spain,” General Ramsés Rueda, commander of the Colombian Air Force, told Diálogo. “With this we’ll achieve standards, establish coordination and cooperation channels, and create synergy among all our capabilities to be stronger and more efficient to respond to a hypothetical special disaster situation anywhere in the continent.”
The most important aspect for attendees is suggesting alternatives to solve disaster challenges, based on their countries’ expectations, resources, and needs. “It’s important to strengthen the capabilities of air forces to succeed in supporting the civil population when necessary,” said Salvadoran Navy Lieutenant René Merino, minister of Defense. “The best results come from our joint efforts; we promote knowledge, experience, and training exchanges.”
The next iteration of CONJEFAMER will take place in June 2020, in Honduras. “These exercises seek not only to have common and reciprocal goals, but also success in the region,” Gen. Goldfein concluded. “We know that there are other narratives and other competitors, particularly from China and Russia, so we want to make sure we have a solid narrative.”