“Natural disasters have become a new threat to the region,” General Javier Ramírez Guillén, commander of the Peruvian Air Force (FAP, per its Spanish acronym), said during his presentation at the South American Air Chiefs Conference. “We must unite to be ready to face natural disasters effectively,” he added. The conference was held at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, in Tucson, Arizona, October 31st –November 3rd, 2017, to analyze the role of regional air forces in response to natural disasters.
In an interview with Diálogo, Gen. Ramírez said that alliances for international and interagency cooperation in the areas of readiness, training, and coordination are key to bolster the air forcesrescue and disaster response capabilities, regional integration, and FAP’s own challenges for 2018.
Diálogo: Why is FAP’s participation in the South American Air Chiefs Conference 2017 important?
General Javier Ramírez Guillén, FAP commander: The conference is a space where we can harmonize our standards and get to know the lessons learned from the various activities that occur or from natural disasters in the region. Each of us has had the opportunity to participate and state what the reality is for our own air force. Out of this set of exhibitions we can learn lessons and improve our use of the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA) to mitigate natural disasters.
Diálogo: Why is it important that the air forces be better prepared to respond to natural disasters?
Gen. Ramírez: There are different threats in this globalized world. It’s no longer just about defending the sovereignty and integrity of each nation—it’s also about new threats we’re seeing, risks, such as earthquakes, floods, and forest fires, among others. That has caused our reality to shift and it has made us step up and improve the capacity of each of our air forces to mitigate this situation.
Diálogo: Do you mean that natural disasters are a security threat?
Gen. Ramírez: Yes, of course. There are always many deaths and many people impacted by each of these events. Without neglecting its main mission, the air force, which is very quick and flexible, shifts all of its efforts to respond to such disasters.
Diálogo: For Peru, 2017 has been a critical year in terms of natural disasters. What has FAP’s response been to assist victims?
Gen. Ramírez: FAP has been very active. Unfortunately, for Peru and our citizens in the north, a lot of people suffered from flooding, isolation, and lost their homes. We took the initiative and within one hour of these tragedies, more or less, we were there in the affected areas, bringing in supplies and transferring people out. We transferred more than 38,000 people over this period. We transported more than 15,000 tons of cargo. We made a huge effort to help, and we did so gladly, because our Armed Forces, and FAP in particular, are greatly committed to service.
Diálogo: What is your assessment on regional cooperation among the air forces?
Gen. Ramírez: Very well, especially in recent years. From 2010 to now, I saw a greater strength of unity among the air forces through SICOFAA. There’s more integration, there are more committees, and participants are more involved. I’m happy to say that through the Cooperation exercise, which simulates a natural disaster and the deployment of air forces bringing humanitarian aid to those affected, we became more integrated. Natural disasters are cyclical. There will always be earthquakes, floods, etc. I I sincerely believe in SICOFAA since I first got to know about it more than 38 years ago, and I can see that SICOFAA will empower us more and more.
Diálogo: You speak of SICOFAA as being a vital tool for international cooperation. What has Peru’s experience in this organization been like?
Gen. Ramírez: SICOFAA was the result of an initial need from Peru, which is why in 1964 FAP proposed the establishment of a voluntary organization for mutual professional relationships and presented for consideration a document entitled “Foundations and Procedures for a System of Cooperation among the American Air Forces.” The document was accepted at the Conference of American Air Chiefs in 1965, becoming the first founding document for SICOFAA. Over the years, through committees and Cooperation exercises, as they’re called, we’ve improved much more within SICOFAA. We’re more integrated and we come together face-to-face and share opinions of more than 18 air forces. This strengthens us even more, not only in terms of the comradeship that exists among our air forces, but also in their operational capacity.
Diálogo: Could you delve intoFAP’s relationship with the citizens?
Gen. Ramírez: It’s a very socially committed relationship. FAP, as its name suggests, belongs to all Peruvians and is geared to meet the greatest demands of the state and the citizens. If a single citizen is impacted in Huascarán [a mountainous region in the department of Ancash, in western Peru], we’ll be there. If any city gets cut off for any reason, the Air Force will be there. If there’s a single person in need in any part of the jungle region, the Air Force has to be there, because we encompass all of Peru.
Diálogo: What are the most pressing security problems that the country faces?
Gen. Ramírez: We have domestic threats such as narcotrafficking, illegal logging, and illegal mining, and we work together with Peru’s other armed forces and with the National Police to counter those threats.
Diálogo: How does FAP work with the other branches of the military in your country?
Gen. Ramírez: We work together through the Armed Forces Joint Command under the Ministry of Defense, which is the executive branch of our government, and that’s where we have our three main service branches; the Army, Navy, and Air Force. As military institutions, we do independent and joint operations.
Diálogo: General Ramirez, you took office in December 2016. What is your experience leading FAP?
Gen. Ramírez: I’m excited and happy. Every day, I’m very pleased to lead this institution where I have such wonderful people. We have an excellent president [Pedro Pablo Kuczynski] and an excellent minister of defense [Jorge Nieto], both of whom support us, not only in the Air Force but also across all state institutions. Along those lines, we are in constant coordination and I foresee that in 2018, but also in future years, we will strengthen and increase our capacities to benefit the great demands of the state.
Diálogo: What is your main challenge for 2018?
Gen. Ramírez: It’s for my personnel to increase capacities and training, because we can purchase assets, but training and capacity building take years. It’s important to motivate personnel, because if they’re motivated, that drives them to want more from their Air Force and their country.
Diálogo: What is your message to partner nations?
Gen. Ramírez: Let’s keep getting to know each other, working together, and integrating within SICOFAA, which I believe is the proper path and the right tool to meet these huge demands and mitigate the common threats we face in the region.