Argentina Activates Permanent Antarctic Joint Command

The change in the organization is the first step in restructuring the Argentine Armed Forces.
Eduardo Szklarz/Diálogo | 13 November 2018

Capacity Building

The icebreaker Almirante Irízar, the Argentine Navy flagship, cruises toward San Martín Base on a resupplying mission, during the 2017-2018 Summer Antarctic Campaign. (Photo: Argentine Navy)

The Argentine Armed Forces activated the Antarctic Joint Command (COCOANTAR, in Spanish), kicking off their restructuring process. COCOANTAR, which comprises members of the Argentine Navy, Army, and Air Force, oversees planning and execution of Argentine bases’ logistics support during the annual Summer Antarctic Campaign (CAV, in Spanish) CAV, which used to rotate at the beginning of each campaign. The permanent command will now operate in a stable, continuous way. 

The icebreaker Almirante Irízar rescued five U.S. scientists stranded in Antarctica in March 2018. (Photo: Argentine Ministry of Defense)

The effective change took place on August 15, 2018. Argentine Air Force Colonel Enrique Oscar Videla, second Antarctic joint commander, and Argentine Army First Lieutenant Diego Fabián Nieva, who supervises the organization’s institutional relations, met with Diálogo at COCOANTAR’s headquarters in Buenos Aires.

“In the past, COCOANTAR was assembled three months before each CAV and was dissolved when the campaign ended. What improved is that this group of people stays together and remains active year round,” Col. Videla said. “We don’t have to start over with new people every September. This continuity ensures much more precise planning.”

Restructuring the Argentine Armed Forces

The creation of a permanent COCOANTAR is the first step in restructuring the Argentine Armed Forces, which President Mauricio Macri announced in July 2018. “The restructure is a government policy that seeks to make the organization more efficient. Part of this restructuring is the change that took place in COCOANTAR,” 1st Lt. Nieva said.

“Restructuring means optimizing resources,” Col. Videla added. “The idea is to start doing more joint work among forces, which in turn lowers operating costs.”

According to Col. Videla, the worldwide tendency among armed forces is to implement joint doctrines, peacekeeping operations, and special forces. “It all tends toward jointness,” he said. “The Antarctic Campaign has always been carried out jointly, but from different places. This leads us to start combining a bit more.”

Base logistics

Argentine service members’ logistics support to scientific research allows Brown Base, one of the seven temporary Argentine bases in Antarctica, to open every summer. (Photo: Argentine Navy)

Argentina has the largest number of operational bases in Antarctica. Of its 13 bases, six operate year round (Orcadas, San Martín, Carlini, Esperanza, Belgrano II, and Marambio) while seven are temporary and only open during summer (Matienzo, Petrel, Brown, Primavera, Cámara, Decepción, and Melchior.)

COCOANTAR supplies this entire structure with fuel, clothes, food, medicine, and tools. The command also coordinates the change of personnel and provides support for scientific activities. During the 2017-2018 CAV, COCOANTAR transported 2,400 tons of supplies, including Antarctic diesel oil (fuel with an antifreeze additive), gas tanks, and construction materials. Service members also bring back to Argentina the waste, containers, plastic boxes, and all household garbage daily life in Antarctica produces.

“In winter, a small base can accommodate 20 to 25 people. A large base, such as Esperanza, 50 to 60,” said 1st Lt. Nieva. “The number increases in summer, when we have about 90 people in Esperanza and 70 to 80 in Carlini.” Argentine service members will deploy the icebreaker Almirante Irízar, two polar ships, a C-130 Hercules aircraft, two helicopters, and a Twin Otter aircraft, in addition to amphibious and land vehicles from the Army and the Navy, for the 2018-2019 CAV.

Present for more than 100 years

Argentina is also the country with the longest continuous presence in Antarctica: 114 years. Argentines raised their national flag in the Orcadas Islands upon setting up a weather station on February 22, 1904.

“For us, this is a symbol of pride and commitment. Not only for having the longest-standing presence and the largest number of bases deployed in the summer, but also for our closeness to Antarctica,” said Col. Videla. “And even more so for the importance of the scientific activities carried out. We have to practice everything in a very precise way.”

Argentine bases have scientific cooperation agreements with the United States, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, among other countries. Carlini Base even houses a German lab. The interaction enables the study of climate change effects as well as chemical pollutants, radiation, mammals, and marine plankton.

“Camaraderie in Antarctica is not only among different forces, but also among different countries. For example, at Carlini Base I was with Germans and Americans. The personal connection is unique, and everybody wants to return,” 1st Lt. Nieva said. “What do we get from 100 years in Antarctica? We get local expertise, experience that not every country has. We are proud of being able to provide that knowledge.”

Camaraderie is also reflected in the mutual help among nations. For example, the icebreaker Almirante Irízar rescued five U.S. scientists stranded on a Joinville Island camp in March 2018. “Thank you very much, Argentina, for sending Almirante Irízar to rescue our scientists stranded in Antarctica, reaffirming the spirit of cooperation that drives our relations,” the U.S. Embassy in Argentina said on its Twitter account.

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