The U.S. government donated four MD-530F helicopters and utility vehicles to the Salvadoran Armed Force (FAES) to strengthen its participation in the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), the Salvadoran Ministry of Defense announced. In addition to the helicopters, a fire truck, a water tanker, a forklift, and electric generators were also delivered, the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador said in a statement.
“The vehicles that the U.S. delivered to the Salvadoran Ministry of Defense will replace equipment with similar characteristics that El Salvador has deployed since the beginning of its contribution to MINUSMA in 2015,” Salvadoran Air Force (FAS) Colonel Pablo Soriano Cruz, chief of the FAS General Staff, told Diálogo on November 16. “[Our equipment] suffers wear and tear due to inclement weather conditions in the deployment area, such as sandstorms and high temperatures, among others.”
According to the manufacturer, the MD-530F aircraft delivered on October 26 uses a 650 shaft horsepower Rolls-Royce engine, and is designed to execute operations in hot and elevated environments. In addition, it has the ability to hold five people, fly at 248 kilometers per hour, and carry a maximum weight of 1,405 kilograms.
El Salvador currently participates in MINUSMA with a fleet of five MD-500 helicopters. It also has 110 service members performing various tasks. Among them are aircraft pilots, aviation maintenance personnel, base security troops, and general services personnel.
“The situation in Mali is extreme, that’s why we chose to help. It takes a lot of courage to enter a conflict zone, and I want to recognize the sacrifice that FAES members and their families make to support peace in Mali,” Katherine Dueholm, Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador, said via Twitter. “With this donation of helicopters and vehicles we are giving a new boost to the excellent role Salvadoran FAES troops play in peacekeeping operation tasks in Mali, Africa.”
El Salvador’s fleet of attack helicopters in Mali is focused on supporting the United Nations Security Council’s mandate for MINUSMA through the escort of logistics convoys, day and night reconnaissance, protection of vehicles and helicopters carrying out medical evacuations, and protection of facilities and ground troops.
“The territorial extension of the Republic of Mali [approximately 1.24 million square kilometers] requires MINUSMA to have air assets that can quickly check different events that are reported, such as attacks on the civilian population in isolated places, or the presence of armed groups in certain regions,” Col. Soriano said. “Sometimes reaching these places by ground means could take days or even weeks. By having air assets such as the MD-500 and soon MD-530, El Salvador’s contingent can help reduce such distances to hours and MINUSMA can receive reliable information.”
At present, according to information from the FAS, El Salvador is the only country worldwide contributing troops to MINUSMA with attack helicopters. This contribution is possible thanks to the level of professionalism and experience of the flight crews, aviation maintenance personnel, and other military members in the contingent.
“We are grateful for the donation made as part of the Global Peace Operations Initiative, which will increase the capabilities of our Air Force,” said Salvadoran Minister of Defense Navy Vice Admiral René Merino during the handover ceremony.
MINUSMA was established by the Security Council in April 2013 to assist Mali’s transitional authorities in stabilizing the country, and to ensure the security and protection of civilians. El Salvador joined this force in 2015, which has some 18,000 elements of different nationalities as of November 2022.