A group of four Peruvian Air Force (FAP, in Spanish) first lieutenants trained for 32 weeks at the Initial Entry Rotary Wing Training course in Fort Rucker, Alabama. The officers gained skills and met the requirements necessary to earn FAP certification to fulfill their air missions. The training, from July 2017 to February 2018, consisted of 154 flight hours in Bell OH-58 Kiowa helicopters.
“Through this training, Fort Rucker helps us raise our service members’ skill and readiness levels,” FAP Lieutenant General Raúl Hoyos de Vinatea, chief of Operations, told Diálogo. “Training with one of the most prestigious and recognized forces in the world updates our doctrine. This adds to our personnel's morale for combat and operations, as they feel better trained with new skills.”
All FAP pilots, as well as pilots from partner nations in the hemisphere, receive training in rotary-wing aircraft tactics and techniques at the U.S. Army Flight School in Fort Rucker. U.S. Air Force pilots also attend the school for helicopter training.
The Peruvian pilots’ training was split into four phases. The first phase consisted of 60 flight hours to get used to flying in rotary-wing aircraft. In the second phase, they learned flight instruments and landing at airports and airfields. Tactical training was done in the third phase, with pilots gaining combat skills over the course of 39 flight hours. Finally, the fourth phase included night training, during which they got used to flying wearing night-vision goggles.
“Through the training, pilots achieve a higher level of individual readiness than what we do here [in Peru],” Lt. Gen. Hoyos said. “Unlike our trainers, who go through other programs, the trainers at Fort Rucker have actually been in the heat of combat operations. That enables us to have crews qualified to increase our number of operations.”
Since 2010, FAP increased its level of involvement in operations against narcoterrorism, narcotrafficking, and illegal logging and mining thanks to training opportunities at Fort Rucker. “In light of this situation, helicopters were most frequently used in those theaters, therefore, [there was] a greater need for trained and capable [helicopter] pilots,” Lt. Gen. Hoyos explained. “The United States is the best option.”
Operating in the VRAEM
“Graduating from the rotary-wing course was a uniquely rewarding experience,” FAP First Lieutenant Adoniran Cruzado, a pilot with the 332nd Air Squadron, told Diálogo. “Regarding what I learned about night flying from the combat-trained U.S. Army instructors: given the level of readiness I need to maintain in the Air Force, I now use night-vision goggles in VRAEM [the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro Rivers Valley] in the fight against narcoterrorism.”
The VRAEM region is considered highly dangerous, as there are still terrorist remnants from the Shining Path group and narcotrafficking groups who grow coca leaves to process and commercialize cocaine hydrochloride. On one occasion in 2015, 1st Lt. Cruzado recalled, a terrorist cell attacked the helicopter he flew en route to Tapichi in VRAEM, on a mission to retrieve Army personnel injured in an ambush.
“I immediately put into use the flight standards I learned at the school. After securing the area and putting a patrol on the ground, we were able to get the injured service members out with the help of special forces,” 1st Lt. Cruzado said. “We’re not immune to dangers inherent in fighting terrorism and drugs. That’s why these training oppotunities are important.”
Bolstering the operational competence of Peru’s military forces and the National Police improved security in that part of the country. “The situation in VRAEM is quite favorable. Over the last six years, we recorded some great achievements in terms of arrests, reductions in coca leaf crop production, and drug interdictions,” Lt. Gen. Hoyos said. “The zone is now much more pacified, much quieter, but we’re not letting our guard down.”
FAP flies helicopters similar to those used by the Peruvian Army and National Police. “Some Army and Police personnel are trained at Fort Rucker and others are trained with the Colombian Air Force,” Lt. Gen. Hoyos said. “Such cooperation helps us be more interoperable in joint operations and even in combined operations among air forces.”
Prior year training events enabled Peruvian pilots to fly helicopters for more than 700 hours over 35 days to attend to all areas of the country hit by the Coastal El Niño weather event of 2017. The deployment of those units made it possible to rescue people trapped and cut off from the rest of the country due to intense rains, overflowing rivers, landslides, and mudslides, FAP reported. “We need more qualified pilots, given all the mission duties we carry out across the country,” 1st Lt. Cruzado added.
In addition to the training and preparation abroad, FAP counts on the support of U.S. Southern Command's (SOUTHCOM) Special Operations, which periodically deploy to Peru. Their mission is to share with FAP members techniques to respond to natural disasters and tactics to interrupt the flow of illegal goods, and provide continuity to the country's stability. In 2018, SOUTHCOM will offer FAP three training sessions on military tactics.
“Each year, a SOUTHCOM Special Forces team travels to our country to train our special forces personnel on how to operate better in VRAEM. SOUTHCOM’s training efforts produce good results. We have far fewer casualties now—basically zero—because we’re better trained on new tactics,” 1st Lt. Cruzado concluded.