Spotlight: A Conversation With Our Leaders

Uruguayan Wings, Committed to Protecting the Airspace

The Uruguayan Air Force strengthens strategies to share information and protect the airspace.
Geraldine Cook/Diálogo | 9 September 2018

General Alberto Zanelli, commander of the Uruguayan Air Force, believes in sharing knowledge and information to combat transnational criminal organizations. (Photo: Geraldine Cook, Diálogo)

General Alberto Zanelli, commander of the Uruguayan Air Force (FAU, in Spanish), firmly believes that combined work strategies among regional air forces help fight transnational criminal organizations, especially narcotrafficking. Sharing knowledge, information, and lessons learned are necessary tactics to defeat the common enemy.

General Zanelli addressed these topics with Diálogo at the LVIII Conference of Chiefs of the American Air Forces (CONJEFAMER, in Spanish) in Panama City, Panama, June 19-21, 2018. The commander also discussed interagency work and humanitarian aid, among other subjects. 

Diálogo: Why is it important for FAU to participate in CONJEFAMER?

General Alberto Zanelli, commander of the Uruguayan Air Force: It’s important to attend CONJEFAMER for FAU because it allows us to strengthen bonds of integration with our Latin American and Caribbean partners. From the time we’ve had air means, we’ve expressed the wish to participate in different combined activities with our neighbors, as we’ve always had similar situations and common enemies. 

Diálogo: Why is it important for your country to be part of SICOFAA? What are the benefits?

Gen. Zanelli: Uruguay belongs to the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces (SICOFAA) since its creation. SICOFAA’s benefits are many, but I believe that lessons learned are fundamental for our air forces—by lessons learned, I mean, for instance, operations with aircraft systems or different areas of responsibility. What doesn’t happen to us, as we are a relatively small force, might happen to someone in the region or beyond. And that lesson is very valuable; we can all learn from it. Likewise, when we know something and we share it, we enrich our partners in the system of cooperation.​​​​​​​ 

Diálogo: One of your goals is to overhaul FAU’s air fleet. Is there any progress in this regard?

Gen. Zanelli: From a positive standpoint, we provided decision-makers [the government] all the necessary information on the needs to renovate our air fleet, so they can address this priority when they consider it appropriate.​​​​​​​ 

Diálogo: What kind of interagency work does FAU conduct with the Brazilian and Argentine air forces to control irregular flights?

Gen. Zanelli: Something very interesting is to share information, so we are all integrated and know who uses the airspace. We share information among the air forces, including data transfer about targets or planes that don’t want to be identified. This is an interesting process, because it enables us to analyze, for example, how to transfer information between control centers safely, and where the operation of each air force begins and ends.​​​​​​​ 

Diálogo: What’s FAU’s contribution to the air forces in the region?

Gen. Zanelli: I would like to think we share with our partner air forces our ability to do things with a low budget, our initiative, and our desire to prevail no matter what.​​​​​​​ 

Diálogo: Why is it essential for air forces of the region to stand united to counter common problems, such as narcotrafficking?

Gen. Zanelli: It’s important to share knowledge and information, especially to counter criminal organizations. The price you pay for learning is incredible, as learning has a cost. In situations where learning is so costly—fighting against the threat of drug and illegal trafficking in general—sharing information, so we can all benefit, is important.​​​​​​​ 

Diálogo: What is your message for the air forces of the region?

Gen. Zanelli: When we send an aircraft, displaying the colors of our nations, to recurrent situations, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, the morale-boosting effect on those we help is immense. They [the people affected] feel the arrival of their Latin American brothers, who come in to help with open arms, a crew, and an aircraft letting them know they are not alone. FAU conducts missions that go beyond the reach of our aircraft. Uruguayan airmen always step out—ready to learn from it all.

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