Connecting the Skies over the Americas

Liaison officers promote activities between the air forces of their countries and that of the United States.
Geraldine Cook/ Diálogo | 19 January 2017

International Relations

Liaison officers (from left to right): Chilean Air Force Aviation Colonel Francisco Pizarro, Peruvian Air Force Colonel Juan Pablo Tryon, Brazilian Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Eric Cölen, and Colombian Air Force Colonel Juan Carlos Rocha promote joint work between their air forces and AFSOUTH. (Photo: Geraldine Cook/Diálogo)

Four South American air forces have their own voice in the 12th Air Force/Air Forces Southern (AFSOUTH). Liaison officers from Chile, Brazil, Peru, and Colombia represent their air forces in the U.S. headquarters.

“We generated all the possible coordinates for the joint activities that our countries have,” said Colombian Air Force Colonel Juan C. Rocha, AFSOUTH liaison officer. His counterpart from the Brazilian Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Eric Cölen added, “We are developing an important role as special advisors to the commanders of our air forces and to the commander of the 12th Air Force.”

The liaison officer (LNO) program was founded in 2006 to promote interaction between the air forces of partner nations. As representatives of their respective commanders in AFSOUTH, they have greater participation in the coordination of joint work between partner forces. This results in the strengthening of their mutual bonds of cooperation and friendship.

“It is a direct link between the commander general of the air force, or their equivalent, for coordinating any sort of planning with the United States Air Force or with any air force working with the Air Component of Southern Command,” said Colonel Juan Pablo Tryon, Peruvian Air Force liaison officer.

“My role is to manage everything the Chilean Air Force needs, and that requires greater flexibility so as to come to an adequate solution,” added Aviation Colonel Francisco Pizarro, Chilean Air Force liaison officer.

Linking the skies over the Americas

Chile was the first country to participate when AFSOUTH launched the program in 2006. The Chilean Air Force (FACh, per its Spanish acronym) assigned Aviation Colonel Jorge Robles Mella to be its first liaison officer. Today he is commander in chief of FACh. Peru joined the program in 2011, followed by Brazil and Colombia.

The participation of these four South American countries in the LNO program has been crucial to strengthening air forces in the region. “The ranks of the officers and their high level of professionalism and experience have also allowed us to be able to support each other in terms of joint exercises between our countries,” Col. Rocha indicated.

“I am the seventh liaison officer from my air force. I intend to maintain relationships and enrich them,” Col. Pizarro said. “It is good to have representatives in each of the organizations so that we can find better and faster solutions. We are the technical channel between one air force and the others (parallel to formal channels).”

In addition to forging inter-regional cooperation, the LNO program seeks to create synergy among the air forces to achieve security, stability, and prosperity across the Americas. Except for Colombia, which delegates officers annually, participating officers have a two-year commission in AFSOUTH.

“The LNOs work for their air forces, for their commanders. Their main job is to be a link between their air forces, the U.S. Air Force, and the air force component of Southern Command,” stressed Tyrone Barbery, deputy chief of the Hemispheric Security Cooperation Division, and LNO program manager at AFSOUTH.

Importance of the program

Liaison officers value the quality of the program for their own countries. “It is important to be here to streamline our joint activities and to clarify the topics that interest our air forces,” Lt. Col. Cölen said.

“We are working not only with the U.S. Air Force, but also with a group of air forces, which allows us to better integrate,” Col. Pizarro added.

Colombia also values this cooperation effort. “Having a liaison officer creates closer ties between the air forces of Colombia and the United States, but also between the air forces of the other countries that are represented here,” Col. Rocha added. He explained that in addition to joint training and operational activities, the air forces carry out joint military exercises such as Angel Thunder, Red Flag, Green Flag and Angel of the Andes, among others.

That is why the LNOs believe it is essential for the program to grow. “The way we are working together now shows not only how much we are currently achieving, but also how much more we can achieve,” Col. Tryon said. “There are only four of us. I am sure that if there were more LNOs, we could achieve much more.”

This idea is not foreign to AFSOUTH. Expansion of the program to other partner nations is already being analyzed. “We are very receptive to the idea of there being more liaison officers from other air forces,” said Barbery. “It is important for us because of the fact that it gives us direct access and a way to gauge the commanders that are represented.”

Creating closer ties

The strategic air cooperation efforts in the Western Hemisphere have had positive outcomes, according to the LNOs. For example, the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA, per its Spanish acronym), a voluntary, apolitical organization dedicated to promoting cooperation, unity, and interoperability among air forces, has made important advances in regional humanitarian aid coordination during natural disasters such as the one that lashed Ecuador in April 2016, and Hurricane Matthew which caused damage in Haiti in October of the same year.

“SICOFAA seeks to streamline the response to natural disasters,” Lt. Col. Cölen said. “Timely reactions to give support such as what took place immediately after the earthquake in Ecuador has allowed us to create closer relationships among SICOFAA, the other countries, and of course, Colombia,” Col. Rocha added.

The liaison officers agreed that greater regional collaboration could bring better results for regional security and stability.

“We should collaborate much more because in the future this hemisphere is going to be centrally important at the global level. We are emerging nations; we have a lot of possibilities, resources, and wealth,” Col. Tryon said. His Brazilian counterpart agreed. “Collaboration is fundamental to the success and strengthening of our air forces.”

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