The aircraft of rival forces flew battle missions in the skies above the Atacama desert in northern Chile over the course of 11 days this month – but not a single shot was fired.
The battles appeared dramatic, but they weren’t real. They were part of the Salitre 2014 Exercise, a training program that ran from October 6 to 17 organized by the Chilean Air Force (FACH) at the Cerro Moreno Airbase in Antofagasta, about 1,400 kilometers from Santiago. About 800 military personnel, including crew members and technical staff from the air forces of Chile, Argentina (FAA), Uruguay (FAU), Brazil (FAB) and the United States (USAF) participated in the program. Its goal: to promote cooperation and interoperability among partner nations.
“(We seek) to train in the best manner possible, in a coalition environment under international standards demanded by the United Nations, to respond efficiently if we should be required to do so,” said Chile’s Air Force General Maximiliano Larraechea, Director of Salitre 2014.
A wide array of aircraft
The exercise mobilized wide variety of combat aircraft – 35 total took to the skies. For example, Argentina used MDD A-4 AR Fighting Hawks, while Brazil trained with F-5EM fighter jets and one KC 130 Hercules. Meanwhile, Chilean forces utilized F-16AM/BM, F-16/CD, and F-5E fighter planes, among other aircraft. The USAF flew F-16C fighter jets and a KC-135 Stratotanker.
Twenty-nine Uruguayan airmen also participated in the training, with three A-37B Dragonfly aircraft. “The exchange of knowledge is critical in these instances where the goal is to participate and learn," said Maj. Julio Bardesio, one of the Uruguyan airmen who took part in the exercises.
The air forces conducted the missions cooperatively, as members of a coalition. They flew over a dry desert landscape, in a region where the temperatures ranged from zero to 40 degrees Celsius; and they also carried out missions such as refueling while in flight over mountains and above the sea.
“In these kinds of exercises, we have to meet NATO procedures, which are quite strict in terms of execution, conduct, format, and communication. Additionally, all exercises were performed in English,” Larraechea said.
Watching air force operations in real time
Those involved in the training could follow the results of the missions on a daily basis and in real time, thanks to the Shot Validation Cell, an information management program that collects data about missions and flights. Air force commanders used data from this program to help evaluate the missions, and results were also monitored by members of the air forces of Colombia, Mexico, Canada, Germany, and Australia, who attended Salitre 2014 as observers.
“We in Europe form a common organization which performs aerial exercises with some frequency and our pilots actively participate,” said Col. Wolfgang Schad of the German Air Force.
The training provided by Salitre 2014 provided an opportunity for the participating air forces to test their capabilities, and also promoted a sense of camaraderie and cooperation between the airmen.
“The most important part of this exercise has been the degree of friendship between the participating air forces and particularly the Chilean Air Force due to the similarity in our way of operating,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, vice chief of the U.S. National Guard Bureau.
South America is also the site of two other similar tests, the CRUZEX exercise, held in Brazil, and the CEIBO exercise, in Argentina.