The Colombian Air Force (FAC, in Spanish) and the Dominican Air Force (FARD, in Spanish) set important parameters for their future combined fight against narcotrafficking and transnational crime. In February 2018, the Caribe VII air defense exercise concluded at the 3rd Combat Air Command in Barranquilla, Colombia. Crews from both military forces conducted a nighttime mission for the first time, as well as daytime training exercises to widen their range of airspace control.
“By May 2018, combined joint exercises such as Caribe VII allowed us to reduce the percentage of illegal or irregular flights over Colombian and Dominican airspace to zero. Ten years ago, approximately 50 or 60 illegal flights went between these two nations every year,” FAC Major Juan Manuel Londoño Gordon, commander of the 3rd Combat Air Command's 314th Air Defense Squadron, told Diálogo. “Caribe VII strengthened defense systems, bonds of trust and fellowship between the two countries, and strategies and procedures to face threats against the airspace of both countries.”
The exercise set a historic mark for crewmembers with the first nighttime mission using the FARD’s A-29B Super Tucano aircraft. “This is a new capacity used by the institution this year ,” reported FAC in a press release. “The maneuvers we conducted allowed us to fine-tune all coordination procedures between the two nations’ command and control centers,” Captain Giovanni Pérez Sosa, FAC pilot, told Diálogo.
The goal of exercises such as Caribe VII is to keep up with training and standardize the work of binational crews to develop detection, identification, and transfer operations for irregular air traffic of unidentified aircraft. “Transnational crime seeks new strategies to fulfill its objectives. We must respond to these new forms of crime, and this is the perfect backdrop to check the effectiveness and efficiency of our procedures against illegal flights,” Capt. Pérez added.
Nighttime target hand-off
One hundred service members participated in Caribe VII, designed to help personnel face possible threats, maintain, and improve their operational standards. They used 15 aircraft, including combat airplanes, close air support platforms, and search and rescue helicopters for more than 80 flight hours between both air forces.
The training consisted of simulating an illegal aircraft. Once land sensors belonging to both FAC and FARD detected the aircraft, the close air support platform was launched. Minutes later, fighter jets approached the aircraft. Aerial forces forced the illegal light aircraft to land in a controlled aerodrome and turned it over to land authorities. The crews made use of international communication protocols.
“The pilots of the Dominican fighter planes realized the difficulty of night ops and meeting with the close air support platform,” said Maj. Londoño. “During this mission, we met on three occasions and handed off the target during the night, which allowed us to increase the interoperability and capacities of the FAC and FARD.”
The air defense exercises allowed both countries to fine-tune their control procedures from land radars to air operations and the platform working with the Dominican and Colombian fighter planes, with a special emphasis on the close air support platform working with the FARD’s Super Tucanos. They also established flight procedures for the presence of an aircraft suspected of trafficking drugs.
“To maintain and improve operational standards, we have to practice constantly because the enemy does not stay still; this enemy evolves and creates new styles [of attack]. The fight against narcotrafficking is not only done with the Dominican Republic, but also with partner forces and nations affected one way or another by the scourge of narcotrafficking,” said Maj. Londoño.
In addition to the strict control and constant vigilance in the air, Colombia and the Dominican Republic also protect their maritime spaces from illegal use. The Colombian and Dominican navies increased the number of combined exercises to reduce the illicit trafficking of narcotics and other psychotropic substances by sea. “What we aim to do is [eradicate] illegal drug trafficking by air and by sea. This benefits people throughout Central and South America,” Maj. Londoño concluded.