The air forces of 12 countries strengthened rescue and interoperability capabilities in simulated emergency and highly dangerous missions during multinational exercise Ángel de los Andes II. The Colombian Air Force (FAC, in Spanish) hosted the exercise in the highlands of Cundinamarca and Boyacá departments, September 3rd-14th. More than 400 participants along with 15 fixed-wing aircraft and six rotary-wing aircrafts participated.
Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, France, Peru, the United States, and Uruguay took part in the exercise that sought to standardize and improve skills of units operating in rescue missions for natural disasters and combat search and rescue (CSAR). Participants, including service members, medical personnel, and observers, conducted 197 missions, totaling 187 flight hours.
“Ángel de los Andes is a FAC-led international exercise,” FAC Lieutenant Colonel John Jairo Báez Gómez, commander of the exercise, told Diálogo. “It seeks to train nations’ capabilities in humanitarian assistance, personnel rescue in environmental emergencies, firefighting, and also rescue missions for isolated or downed crews in hostile environments.”
Simulated rescue scenarios
The exercises included the simulation of an aerial accident with a plane crash on the road between Barranquilla and Bogotá with 45 passengers aboard. The rescue operation included 150 units from Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and the United States. Participants extracted the wounded with UH-60 Black Hawk and Bell 212 helicopters of the Peruvian Air Force (FAP, in Spanish) and FAC. Units transferred evacuees from the crash site to the area where medical aircraft, such as the U.S. Air Force C-17, waited to airlift victims to hospitals.
“This is actually my first time taking part in an exercise of this magnitude,” FAP Lieutenant Romina Feijoo Ojeda, Bell 212 helicopter pilot, told Diálogo. “It’s reassuring to know that many countries worked together for a single goal: saving lives.”
Rescue personnel from the air forces of Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Peru, and the United States also faced a simulated magnitude 6.9 earthquake, resulting in more than 30 wounded, who were evacuated. The exercise included rescue operations to extract people from collapsed areas or trapped inside vehicles, in addition to humanitarian airdrops.
Another exercise involved extinguishing a forest fire, putting to the test the firefighting capabilities of Bambi Buckets installed in Huey II and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, as well as the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System mounted on a C-130 Hercules. ScanEagle unmanned aerial vehicles also took part in the mission, transmitting real-time information to the command center.
In addition to humanitarian missions, participants carried out CSAR, such as a mock war scenario with an attack on a military convoy that left many injured. Units conducted an air assault while troops rappelled from helicopters to secure the area before evacuating the personnel.
“What was most interesting about this experience was the rescue in combat during the second week, because it takes more concentration and preparation in doctrine and procedures,” Lt. Feijoo said. “It’s something we [in Peru] must learn and keep developing and improving every year, so we can be better prepared whenever a situation happens.”
A promising future
“This has been an excellent opportunity to train with our partner nations,” said U.S. Air Force Colonel Brett Howard, Air Forces Southern/12th Air Force lead for Ángel de los Andes II. “We’ve had many challenges, [but] what we were able to learn is how to overcome those challenges together for mission success.”
Carried out for the first time in 2015, the exercise counted on the unprecedented participation of guest partner nation aircraft in its second edition. The number of deployed units also nearly doubled, going from 250 to more than 400.
“Our aircraft were able to operate with other aircraft, our commands with other commands, and the lessons learned [were] all of them,” Lt. Col. Báez said. “There are lessons learned from the administrative, logistics, and obviously operational viewpoints, which are being compiled to fuel our doctrine to generate changes in the procedures if required.”
Under FAC’s leadership, Ángel de los Andes casts itself as an exercise of great importance for the region. The next edition will be held in 2021.
“I’m certain that the next edition in three years will feature more visiting nations or more delegations bringing their own aircraft,” Lt. Col. Báez said. “What’s next for Ángel de los Andes, for FAC, and for Colombia as a benchmark, is very positive.”