Air units from Colombia and Panama came together on April 24th–28th at the Colombian Air Force (FAC, per its Spanish acronym) Combat Air Command No. 5, and at the Air Station of the National Air and Naval Service of Panama (SENAN, per its Spanish acronym) for the second edition of the PANCOL II exercise. The training was part of the two countries’ preparation for monitoring illegal aerial and maritime lines of communication. The opening ceremony for PANCOL II took place at SENAN’s Teniente Octavio Rodríguez Garrido Air Station and was attended by Major General Jorge Tadeo Borbón Fernández, operations chief of the FAC, and Vice Commander Luis E. Ruiz, deputy director of SENAN.
The exercise is the result of the commitment the two nations made in 2012 when the Panamanian Ministry of Public Security and the Colombian Ministry of Defense signed a document titled Procedimientos Operacionales Vigentes [Operational Procedures in Effect]. “This allows for the exchange of information and the passing of targets of interest between the two nations in a timely and direct manner,” Lieutenant Colonel Oscar Jiménez, deputy director of operations of the FAC Air Defense Division, told Diálogo.
“Airspace control missions were carried out, simulating the entry or the detection of unidentified aircraft in the border region,” Deputy Commissioner Armando King, head of SENAN’s Helicopter Squadron, told Diálogo. Two C-208 airplanes, one belonging to FAC, and the other to SENAN, simulated illicit flights across the border into their neighbor country.
“Participating crews from the two countries were able to perform in a coordinated manner, which provides another level of complexity to the exercise and, at the same time, an invaluable opportunity to combat these types of threats that have no borders,” Lt. Col. Jiménez said. The exercise required participants to exchange information between the two agencies, the delivery of targets, the activation of protocols established at command-and-control centers on both sides, and the interdiction of the mock illegal aircraft.
“We conducted drills where, during the aerial interdiction, the target [illicit] aircraft was supposedly launching illicit substances into the sea,” indicated DC King. On this occasion, the exercise involved the Panamanian Naval Group and the Colombian Navy. This strategy responds to their desire to limit the movement of criminal groups which use the sea as an escape route.
“From the Colombian Navy, there was the ARC Valle del Cauca Ocean Patrol Vessel, a National Navy helicopter, and a Coast Guard unit we call the ‘Rapid Response Unit,’” Commander Jesús González of the ARC Valle del Cauca told Diálogo.
The integration of aerial and maritime interdiction in this exercise, conducted by countries having jurisdiction in two oceans, allows for the standardization of procedures and for their armed forces to get to know and interact with each other. The joint effort, in turn, streamlines the response to criminal incidents that take place at sea.
“[We seek] to deny the use of the sea to transnational criminal organizations which affect us so much, and which see the sea as their best escape route for their illicit activity, transporting narcotics, illegal currency, migrants... all these different transnational crimes that afflict the region,” Cmdr. González said, stressing the importance of the strategy.
Achievements and results
The exercise allowed for the standardization of procedures for the integration of efforts to monitor aerial and maritime communication lines between the two governments. At the same time, the exchange of information between the two countries helps to reveal the movement of vessels used for drug trafficking and other crimes.
“SENAN is continuing its frontal assault against drug trafficking, and currently, [Panama] is the country with the highest amount of illicit substances seized in Central America,” DC King reported. He also said that the two institutions have increased their communication with each other to build the trust they need to conduct combined operations to control the two nations’ air and maritime space.
“The important thing about this operation is the integration of air force and navy assets for aerial interdiction and maritime interdiction in each of their specializations. [We were able to] connect with a border country, such as Panama,” Cmdr. González said. Cutting off the movement of transnational criminal organizations has been accomplished, “which is shown by the fact that in the course of this year, there have not been illegal flights between the two nations’ airspace,” Lt. Col. Jiménez said. “The PANCOL II exercise has been a gratifying experience for the two nations, which have worked persistently to provide the community with a safer country every day,” DC King concluded.