Salvadoran Service Members Display Fighter Aircraft and Rescue Helicopters

The pilots participated in an aviation exhibition to show their abilities to combat emerging threats.
Lorena Baires/Diálogo | 4 March 2019

Capacity Building

Pilots of the Salvadoran Air Force’s Fighter and Bomber Group demonstrated several maneuvers used to defend their territory and counter narcotrafficking. (Photo: Gloria Cañas, Diálogo)

With the support of the New Hampshire Air National Guard (NHANG), the Salvadoran Air Force (FAS, in Spanish) demonstrated its abilities to conduct humanitarian assistance, rescue, and counter narcotics operations during the Ilopango Air Show 2019, a civil-military aviation event held January 25-26 at Comalapa Air Base, El Salvador. Salvadoran and U.S. service members simulated risky operations with rescue helicopters and fighter aircraft.

The military aerial demonstration was one of the main attractions at the event, which the Aeroclub Association of El Salvador organizes for the last 22 years, drawing more than 40,000 spectators. The funds collected will go to the Intensive Care Unit at Benjamín Bloom National Children’s Hospital in San Salvador.

Air combat

“We had the opportunity to show the work of our first line of air defense, a squadron of three Cessna A-37B aircraft engaged in ongoing surveillance to detect possible movements from narcotrafficking rings,” said Colonel Salvador Hernández, commander of the FAS General Staff. “These aircraft take off immediately when they receive an order to intercept illegal movements, either maritime or airborne.”

The fleet belongs to FAS’s Fighter and Bomber Group. Their demonstrations, displaying individual and formation flights, showcased some of the tasks executed when intercepting a land, water, or air vehicle suspected of carrying illegal goods or being involved in illegal activities.

“The different training received from the U.S. Air Force enabled us to improve our pilots’ performance and, consequently, the service we provide the country in security and rescue,” Col. Hernández said. “This event lets us show off the results of training and exchanges, as well as our level of preparedness to counter transnational crime day by day.”

Joint Task Force Bravo organized a stationary exhibition with one of the helicopters used in humanitarian assistance operations in El Salvador. (Photo: Gloria Cañas, Diálogo)

For the seventh year in a row, NHANG’s 157th Air Refueling Wing conducted overflights with a Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker. Attendees were able to witness the aircraft’s capabilities to transport patients during aeromedical evacuations.

“For us, participating in this air event is an ideal opportunity to connect directly with the Salvadorans and show our partnership with their country,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Greg Heilshorn, director of Public Affairs for the New Hampshire Army National Guard. “We work in good faith and with good relations, which are the basis for any enduring friendship.”

The New Hampshire National Guard is associated with FAS through the U.S. State Partnership Program, which links the National Guard of a U.S. state to the armed forces of a partner nation for a relationship of mutual cooperation. Since the partnership’s beginnings in 2000, it provides ongoing training on rescue techniques during sudden floods, landslides, and earthquakes. In a seismic country like El Salvador, exercises of this kind strengthen joint response mechanisms in case of emergencies.

Humanitarian operations

U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo) joined the 2019 event and displayed one of its UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which served in many humanitarian operations in Central America. “In the case of El Salvador, in November of last year [2018], one of these helicopters enabled us to distribute 170 tons of supplies and bring medical attention to 4,400 patients during rain emergencies,” said U.S. Army Major Christopher Cashell, member of JTF-Bravo.

JTF-Bravo trained Salvadoran service members in open water rescues, rappelling, and rope training from UH-60s for humanitarian assistance operations. As part of its security cooperation mission, JTF-Bravo conducts the Central America Sharing Mutual Operational Knowledge and Experiences exercise on a cyclical basis to facilitate future efforts with Central American firefighters in case of disasters and medical evacuations.

“The work of the U.S. military in evacuations or disasters is amazing; their level of professionalism is sky-high,” said José Luis Arévalo, a Salvadoran civil engineer who visited the event. “It’s good to know that we can count on them in emergencies, since we don’t always have all the resources to address them in our country.”

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