Salvadoran Special Forces and US Military Practice Air Insertions

The Salvadoran Armed Force’s Special Forces Command increased its helicopter assault and surprise capabilities.
Lorena Baires/Diálogo | 9 May 2019

Capacity Building

The Salvadoran Armed Force Special Forces Command trained with U.S. service members in insertion techniques from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. (Photo: Gloria Cañas, Diálogo)

Units of Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo) and the U.S. Army led an air instruction program for the Salvadoran Armed Force’s (FAES, in Spanish) Special Forces Command (CFE, in Spanish). During the March 4-7, 2019 training at Ilopango Lake, San Salvador department, service members from both countries conducted descent and fast-rope extraction and insertion operations from helicopters.

“The goal of the training is to promote interoperability between the two nations and show the commitment to support the Salvadoran fight against transnational criminal organizations,” said U.S. Army Captain Peter Schlatter, assistant operations officer for JTF-Bravo’s 1st Battalion, 228th Aviation Regiment. “This training will increase Salvadorans’ comfort, as they operate helicopters.”

CFE is an elite unit consisting of the Parachute Battalion, the Special Operations Group, and the Special Counter-terrorist Command. “With this training, 35 [Salvadoran] swimmers, divers, and paratroopers learned new amphibious capabilities and skills,” said Salvadoran Army Colonel Jorge Miranda, CFE commander. “Now they are prepared to join operations against narcotrafficking and perform rescue missions in case of disasters or emergencies.”

Improved capabilities

The training was the hands-on part of a comprehensive training course that started in December 2018 with theoretical courses. “The air training was the high point of the six-month instruction programs for special forces,” said U.S. Army Captain Bruno Lucivero, commander of the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group. “CFE is now capable of conducting this kind of training on its own with its rotating platforms and using them in real missions.”

Participants planned the exercises at FAS 1st Air Brigade headquarters, and then traveled to Ilopango Lake. U.S. service members led multiple training events focused on air insertion and other techniques, including parachuting and rappel from UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.

Members of the Salvadoran Special Forces Command check their equipment before starting the training to improve assault and surprise capabilities against emerging threats. (Photo: Gloria Cañas, Diálogo)

“Soldiers took part in security training in and around the helicopter, including ‘cold-load’ training, where soldiers practice boarding and leaving the aircraft while it’s stationed on the ground,” Capt. Schlatter said. “Then we conducted different insertion training exercises that enable them to use aircraft assets as a mission requires.”

Insertion techniques

CFE personnel received training in three special techniques. First, service members deployed with static-line parachutes from the back of a helicopter. For the second technique, known as helocast, participants jumped into the water from a helicopter that flew slowly at low altitude. For the third, known as Fast Rope Insertion Extraction System or FRIES, service members deployed by descending with a rope tied to the back of the helicopter.

These procedures will enable the Salvadoran special forces to improve operational readiness during support tasks for the Cuscatlán Joint Group, an interagency team whose mission is to counter drug smuggling. “When the naval force chases a suspicious vessel and observes that it’s carrying illegal goods, our unit collaborates in the interdiction with amphibious assault or sniper teams,” said Col. Miranda. “This training has multiple purposes, because it also enables us to help in case of floods or earthquakes in hard-to-reach areas, or where people are trapped.”

The trained personnel seemed satisfied with the knowledge they gained, as they require daily new and improved capabilities to disrupt narcotrafficking networks that use Central America in route to the United States. “The training is valuable, because it focused on main threats we have in the region,” said FAES Army First Lieutenant Rafael Pineda, a CFE member. “We are going to pass this knowledge along to other members of the command to increase the group’s amphibious capabilities.”

In addition to training Salvadoran service members, the program enabled U.S. air crews to increase experience and preparation. “All these tasks require a certification, which means that a pilot instructor has to close the session after doing several interactions,” Capt. Schlatter said. “While we were training the Salvadorans, we received a lot of training as well.”

CFE members thanked JTF-Bravo and the U.S. Army 7th Special Forces Group for their professionalism, dedication, and ongoing help to the region. “While we were training and learning, we strengthened interoperability between the two nations,” Lt. Pineda concluded.

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