The XXIV Operations Committee of the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA, per its Spanish acronym) was held March 6th–9th with the goal of organizing cooperative strategies and coordinating a combined exercise that will focus on disaster situations in Chile. The event was held at the Air Combat Command No. 5 of the Colombian Air Force (FAC, per its Spanish acronym) in Rionegro, department of Antioquia.
Delegations from the air forces of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, the United States, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and Uruguay attended the event. “The main objective [of the meeting] is to exchange experiences, knowledge, and training with the goal of raising the capacities of air forces in the Western Hemisphere, to ensure the success and security of combined operations during natural disasters and emergencies in support of the civilian population,” Major General Tadeo Borbón, chief of air operations for FAC, told Diálogo.
During the event, SICOFAA member countries agreed that Exercise Cooperación (Cooperation) V will be held in Chile from September 26th to October 7th. More than 210 officers and specialists from the 20 nations comprising the apolitical organization will participate in the event, as well as 23 aircraft. The hypothetical scenario will involve an earthquake, a tsunami, a volcanic eruption, and the capsizing of a cruise ship transporting 5,000 passengers.
“Thirteen countries expressed their commitment to participating, which could make it the largest cooperation exercise to date,” U.S. Air Force Colonel Anthony G. Cook, secretary general of SICOFAA, told Diálogo. Within the strategic planning project for the training in Chile, the air forces will conduct search-and-rescue and parachuting missions, air drops, aeromedical evacuations, passenger and cargo transport missions, and operations on semi-prepared airstrips. “The joint exercises help standardize procedures and increase the synergy among partner nations. Air forces learn from each other and leadership is created. The more we become integrated and get to know each other, the better our joint operations will flow,” Maj. Gen. Borbón said.
SICOFAA has also established mechanisms and strategies to strengthen the medical response during disasters. And in order to ensure the interoperability of the manifold capacities of air forces throughout the Americas, it was also able to improve transportation logistics. For example, a team of seven officers and a Black Hawk helicopter belonging to FAC will participate in the combined exercise. However, it is difficult to transfer the fully outfitted helicopter to Chile. “FAC is analyzing the possibility of transferring the aircraft on board a U.S. Air Force plane,” Maj. Gen. Borbón explained. Planning and coordinating logistics in a joint manner allows the air forces to achieve greater progress.
FAC also reported in a press release that members shared knowledge in the areas of science, technology, doctrine, and advances in aerospace medicine. “The XXIV Committee served as the main planning conference for Exercise Cooperación V and it facilitated coordination among a great number of SICOFAA member air forces,” Col. Cook said.
A delegation from the committee toured the National Center for Personnel Recovery in FAC’s Military Transport Air Command (CATAM, per its Spanish acronym). The center brings together Colombia’s humanitarian aid organizations and the ministries of Social Protection and Interior to optimize response time during natural disasters, the recovery and evacuation of personnel injured during combat, and medical care to victims in emergencies.
“None of our countries are immune to natural disasters. Cooperación V gives us the chance to meet and train together in realistic scenarios so we can be prepared to respond together when faced with such an emergency,” Col. Cook said. “During Cooperación V, we have a set of shared procedures, shared doctrine, and even shared software,” he noted. “The greater the participation, the greater our confidence in our procedures will be, and the greater our capacity to integrate our efforts in the air forces of the Americas for the fast and efficient use of air assets in response to a disaster,” he added.
Because a large majority of countries in the region and around the world do not have their own capacity to respond to large-scale natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and fires, coordinated action by partner air forces – such as in Peru in March – becomes indispensable. The SICOFAA cooperation system demonstrated its usefulness during the emergency caused by the coastal El Niño, a meteorological phenomenon that battered Lima and northern Peru. On that occasion, the air forces of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and the United States joined efforts to help the victims of the heavy rainfall and flooding in Peru.
“Humanitarian exercises are indispensable because they allow the hemisphere’s armed forces to adapt their operations in the fight against the effects of climate change,” César Ortiz Anderson, president of the Peruvian Association for Public Safety, told Diálogo.
SICOFAA has participated in diverse combined training exercises. The most recent, Cooperación IV, took place in April 2016 at the 4th Air Brigade of the Argentine Air Force in Mendoza. On that occasion, officers from 14 partner air forces conducted virtual search-and-rescue operations and had support duties in the affected areas.
“The air forces of the Americas are a huge added value for our hemisphere. We have regional stability, we share confidential information, and we maintain strong, healthy relationships,” Maj. Gen. Borbón said. “SICOFAA seeks to ensure the sovereignty of the airspace belonging to each of the territories it is composed of, to combat any transnational threat, and provide humanitarian assistance.”
In response to recent disasters, SICOFAA has managed to create a sense of unity among the air forces of the Americas. “One definition of this cooperation could be ‘today for you, tomorrow for me.’ In SICOFAA we like to go further and say, ‘united allies,’” Col. Cook concluded.