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AFSOUTH Helps Support Tactical Dominican Air Force

  • Published
  • By Capt. Sarah Schwennesen
  • 12 AF(AFSOUTH) Public Affairs
United States Air Forces Southern (AFSOUTH, 12th Air Force) units in conjunction with United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Joint Inter-Agency Task Force South (JIATF-S) and the Department of State are assisting the Dominican Republic in their successful pursuit to combat illicit trafficking.

The Dominican Republic recently purchased Super Tucano A-29B fighter aircraft, ground based surveillance radars, and are constructing command and control operations centers in order to improve the tactical arm of the Dominican Republic Air Force. Under the SOUTHCOM/JIATF-S Sovereign Skies initiative, AFSOUTH has provided technical support for radar site surveys and developed tailored Pilot and Ground Control Intercept (GCI) syllabi. In addition, two A-29B pilots and two ground controllers have completed training in Colombia using the AFSOUTH-developed courseware.

Dominican Republic Air Force Chief of Operations, Col. Hilton Cabral, A-29 Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Gabriel Medina, JIATF-S Radar Program Director, Lt. Col. Aracenis Castillo, JIATF-S Dominican Republic Air Force (DRAF) liaison officer, Lt. Col. Jonas Reynoso, and GCI controller, 1Lt. Jose Castillo, recently traveled to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base (DMAFB) and Luke Air Force Base to discuss their training as well as tour the AFSOUTH Combined Air and Space Operations Center (CAOC), the 607th Air Control Squadron and 309th Fighter Squadron.

During the DMAFB visit, Col. Cabral briefed AFSOUTH leadership on the successes and challenges of standing up a fighter squadron and creating a GCI career field while continuing to intercept illegal aircraft bound for the Dominican Republic. Col. Cabral remarked that "since the introduction of the Super Tucano aircraft and ground-based radars, illicit air tracks into the Dominican Republic had dropped by over 80 percent."

The A-29B is an advanced turboprop designed for light attack incorporating modern avionics and weapons systems, yet also tough enough to operate from unimproved airfields. As Col. Cabral noted, "We have flown our Tucanos from grass airfields that were once used when we had P-51 Mustangs in the Dominican inventory."

Also on the trip was Mr. Guillermo Toca (Sovereign Skies Coordinator) who briefed the status of the State Department-sponsored Huey II upgrade for the Dominican Air Force. The advanced helicopters would give the Dominicans the capability for night-capable rotary wing lift and combined with fighter interceptors and GCI would allow the Dominicans to improve their air sovereignty capabilities. After the DMAFB visit, the Dominicans traveled to Luke AFB and were hosted by the 607 Air Control and 309th Fighter Squadrons.

While at Luke, the DRAF visitors received a close control intercept primer, ACS and AWACS mission briefs and were able to participate in actual, 1v1 F-16 intercept missions. Since the DRAF relies on ground based radars for aircraft intercepts, the Luke team was able to demonstrate close control stern intercepts with the DRAF pilots in the back seat of the F-16s while receiving vectors from the 607th ACS (O'Grady Control) as well as autonomous intercepts employing on board radar and data link sensors.

During the intercepts, O'Grady controller TSgt. Josey demonstrated close control operations and perfectly rolled the fighter in behind the "bogey" on both intercepts. According to TSgt. Josey, "Although close control is a core competency in my career field and we must accomplish it during training; we really don't use it in live training so it was a lot of fun for me today to set headings and altitude for an F-16 and roll it in behind a target unobserved."

Later asked if he felt any pressure during the mission as he was being watched by an international and inter-agency contingent, TSgt. Josey calmly responded "Not really, a little rusty at first but it all comes back to you." Additionally, during the flights, the pilots were able to use Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) and see the benefits of a tactical data-link between fighters and C2 agencies.

According to Lt. Col. S. Edward Boxx, JIATF-S ACCE (Air Component Coordination Element) Director, "This visit provides an excellent opportunity for the DRAF to leverage our lessons learned when it comes to integrating fighter aircraft, GCI, data-links and radars along with tactical helicopters. We are not pushing them into our model of interoperability; they will of course do what works for them."

JIATF-S Liaison, Lt. Col. Reynoso echoed that sentiment, "We were able to observe first-hand how the USAF operates in a tactical environment and through our close cooperation with the Colombian Air Force, we are able to merge the best practices of both Air Forces."

Maj. Eleanor Peredo, USAF Mission Chief in the U.S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group in the Dominican Republic remarked, "The CAOC and ACS tour was especially helpful as the Dominicans will combine elements of the CAOC and the ACS into their own command and control structure. The Luke-based fighter pilots have had a long relationship with the Tucano pilots but now we look forward building the relationship between the 607th ACS controllers and the emerging DRAF GCI career field.

"The 607 ACS briefs, simulator demos and live missions presented by Lt. Col. Carlos Messer and Maj. James Warf combined with the invaluable collaboration of fighter pilot help from Lt. Col. Torrealday and Maj. Perlman will contribute greatly in the building of a tactical Dominican Air Force," said Maj. Peredo.

Four more A-29B pilots are scheduled to receive advanced training along with four GCI controllers this year under the Sovereign Skies initiative and there are plans to develop an A-29B pilot instructor course for the DRAF.

"Only through the combined efforts of many agencies is the Dominican Republic Air Force able to realize these important milestones in their fighter, radar, helicopter, and command and control capabilities" summarized Lt. Col. Boxx. Maj. Peredo concluded, "The A-29 fighters on patrol have become commonplace in the skies above Santo Domingo and are a visible reminder of the Dominican resolve against illicit trafficking in their country."