The Colombian Air Force (FAC, per its Spanish acronym) hosted the Caribe VI Exercise using its 3rd Combat Air Command (CACOM-3, per its Spanish acronym) July 24th to 28th. During the training, an aircraft from the Dominican Republic was forced to land at Ernesto Cortisoz Airport in Barranquilla, Colombia. During the operation, they also reviewed the ground procedures for prosecuting the aircraft crew as well as the entire chain of events for a successful air interdiction operation.
“The mission also examined an illegal flight that departed from the Colombian coast towards the Dominican Republic. The exercise was created and conducted to establish the effectiveness of both nations’ protocols,” Colombian Air Force Colonel Alexander García Agudelo, the commander of CACOM-3, told Diálogo. “It was a practical and dynamic training in which both air forces were able to refine the skills of their crews and operational staff skills in every detail of an interdiction operation.”
The effectiveness of the cooperation agreements between Colombia and the Dominican Republic is evident in the results obtained in the control and defense of the Caribbean air corridor. In 2012, 102 illegal trafficking events were recorded. By 2016, that figure had dropped by 50 percent, with just 54 illegal aircraft identified. That statistic is directly influenced by conducting air interdiction exercises, which the two nations have held on six occasions.
Caribe VI is the latest of these. During the exercise, they had the chance to do practice missions based on the existing cooperation agreements for airspace control. FAC’s C-95, A-29, and SR-560 aircraft and the Dominican Air Force’s (FARD, per its Spanish acronym) A-29 aircraft were employed, as well as other ships, radar, and high-tech equipment. Both air forces conducted operations to test their military knowledge, skills, and sufficiency, using a human team that is increasingly well trained. The exercise was designed to refine the procedures for neutralizing and turning an illegal aircraft over to the other nation, with the crew and the command, control, and communication centers in full control.
“Through these training opportunities, the details of these carefully designed international protocols are reinforced for each of the air forces,” said Col. García, who led Caribe VI for FAC. “Once the crews are able to internalize these systems, the success of the operation is guaranteed.”
Control of the Caribbean air corridor
Caribe VI kicked off in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and ended in Barranquilla, Colombia. Present at the exercise were Major General Luis Napoleón Payan, the general commander of the FARD, and General Carlos Eduardo Bueno Vargas, the general commander of FAC. Nearly 100 people participated in the air interdiction exercise that is part of the Current Operation Plans that Colombia has in place for minimizing illegal trafficking through the Caribbean airspace. This is a corridor that runs from the northeastern zone of Colombia to Mexico and Central America, reaching some Caribbean islands, such as the Dominican Republic.
Caribe VI had cooperation from agencies from other nations, especially the United States, which are involved in the fight against transnational crime. “The INL [the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs], the DEA [U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency], and SOUTHCOM [U.S. Southern Command], assist us on a permanent basis,” Col. García stated. “This is work that is done jointly with nearly all of the nations of Central America, the Caribbean, Mexico, and the United States.”
The first combined air interdiction exercise conducted by Colombia was held in 2005 with the Brazilian Air Force. Thanks to the cooperation agreements, the effective control that FAC has achieved over the airspace in this zone has been extended to other nations’ airspace with the same effectiveness.
“For example, FAC detected 635 illegal flights in Panamanian airspace in 2003 alone,” Colonel Iván Darío Bocanegra Ospina, the director of FAC Air Defense, told Diálogo. “By 2017, that number had decreased by 99 percent, a resounding figure that reflects the successful result of these bi-national strategies.”
Final results of the operation
“One palpable result of these bi-national operations is the decrease in illegal flights in Dominican airspace thanks to decisions by that nation’s leaders and the resolute participation of nations like Colombia and the United States, with their capabilities, experience, and professionalism,” Gen. Bueno Vargas told Diálogo. “Today, our country [Colombia] is efficient in its fight against drug trafficking by air.”
Colombia has air interdiction agreements in force with the United States through an Air Bridge Denial Agreement. It also has operating procedures in place with Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Peru. And there is a memorandum of understanding with Mexico.
“Another meaningful result of these cooperation agreements is flight safety among air forces when carrying out these kinds of operations, allowing us to act with greater effectiveness in the fight against transnational crime,” Gen. Bueno Vargas added. “These agreements also allow us to exchange knowledge and experience, which lead to new strategies for combating these threats.”