Uruguayan Air Force Conducts Exercises to Counter Transnational Crime

By Dialogo
June 07, 2016

Uruguay's Air Force (FAU) recently deployed 25 pilots and another 15 service members to the country's northern region to search for illegal landing strips used by drug traffickers. The training strengthens airspace security, the country's fight against drug trafficking, and the air squadron’s operational capacities.

Pilots and navigators from the 7th Air Squadron (Observation and Liaison), which belongs to the FAU's 3rd Air Brigade, departed in four Cessna C-206 H Stationair airplanes and a Beechcraft UB-55 Baron aircraft on May 17th toward Melo, the department capital of Cerro Largo, near the border with Brazil. The main objective of the deployment, which concluded on May 20th, was to look for landing strips, observe the dry border, control the air space, and evaluate the flight squadron’s capabilities – both in terms of crews’ operational plans and logistical support in an irregular environment, according to an FAU press release.

The next training sessions, which are planned a year in advance, will be held in September and November. “The primary challenges that the 7th Air Squadron’s members are facing are being able to complete missions satisfactorily, especially those that remove them from normal operational environments, and being able to overcome weather while operating safely,” Aviator Major Juan Ocampo, Commander of the 7th Air Squadron, told Diálogo

Pilots log 50 hours of flight

During the training, in which pilots logged 50 hours in the air, the Uruguayan service members conducted day and night reconnaissance as well as night landings in unusual settings such as mountains, forests, and other areas that have been hard to reach for authorities in the fight against transnational threats.

“The Uruguayan officers have strengthened their ties of cooperation and teamwork, putting the accomplishment of their missions before all else,” Major Ocampo stated.

During night maneuvers, they used “beacons that ran on photo cells,” which lit up at night after being charged with sunlight. “One of the aims of the night flights is to be up to date in order to support the interception of illegal aircraft when so ordered by higher ups,” Major Ocampo explained. “This deployment is part of the training that a flight crew that flies in this squadron must have. The pilots are equipped with practice and training in how to combat drug trafficking and transnational crime organizations. One of our main missions is to provide support to organizations which are fully engaged in the fight against crime and drug trafficking.”

In addition to participating in aircraft interception operations, the 7th Air Squadron also conducts transfers of personnel, rescues, and humanitarian aid, as it depends on more than 50 aviators from all ranks with various levels of experience and training. “Since flight is our vocation and expectations center on a professional level, we must provide our crews clear ways to satisfactorily complete assignments that are not planned and in which one has to adjust and adapt,” Major Ocampo stated.

On May 18th, the High Command sent instructions via the Aerial Operations Center to operate select reconnaissance flights in precise locations, which were given using coordinates. The operation was meant to disrupt the plan that the crews already had in place. The exercise tested the unit's youngest pilots, who received logistical support by the Air Base Squadron from the 3rd Air Brigade. The National Aerial Police secured the airport.

“What has been planned are territorial deployments in different parts of the country, spread out in such a way that the entire country is covered in order to protect Uruguayan airspace,” Major Ocampo explained. “Even beyond having professional training sessions, the fortification of each one of the squadron’s members is very important. Experience is very valuable, and the main thing is for them to be able to turn that experience onto those who come after them as well as on missions."

Narco-traffickers exploit Uruguay

Uruguay is not a country that produces important narcotics, according to the U.S. government. However, international narcotrafficking groups take advantage of the country’s porous borders with Brazil and Argentina. Traffickers use the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo as a hub to transport cocaine that's produced in the Andes, the website Espectador
reported on March 2nd.

One hundred thirty-five kilograms of cocaine were seized in Uruguay from January to May of this year, following 1.5 tons seized in 2013 compared to just 10 kilograms of the drug being confiscated in 1991, the newspaper El Observador
reported .
Conversely, the International Narcotics Control Board has reported Uruguay has the third highest rate of cocaine consumption in South America, bested only by Chile and Argentina.