SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador —
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein delivered familiar messages June 17-19 to an influential meeting of air chiefs from 21 nations across the Americas – the United States wants to be your partner of choice, and “we’re stronger together.”
“It’s all about partnerships here in this hemisphere among neighbors,” Goldfein said during a conference call June 17 with reporters after arriving in El Salvador for the annual event that brings together the highest ranking air force officers from Western Hemisphere nations.
“Looking at interoperability, building partner capacity, the extension of engagement that is guided by these interests really reflects our enduring promise of friendship, partnership and solidarity within the Americas,” he said.
Goldfein’s words – and his broader effort – reflected a history of tight bonds and collaboration between the U.S. Air Force and countries as diverse as Brazil, Canada and El Salvador. Air chiefs from each of those countries attended the three-day annual event that was co-sponsored this year by Goldfein and El Salvador’s Air Chief, Col. Manuel Calderon.
The meeting of air chiefs from the Americas is held under the auspices of the System of Cooperation Among the American Air Forces, an organization based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, that coordinates military responses and efforts to deliver humanitarian aid.
While the purpose and tenor of this year’s meeting echoed those of previous gatherings, there also were new issues that magnified its importance. The ongoing turmoil and instability in Venezuela is one prominent example. The growing influence of Russia and especially China in the region is also a fresh feature as are the shifting dynamics of immigration and how the United States responds.
The changes extended to the personal as well. Colombia, which is one of the United States’ closest allies in the region, appointed a new chief of its air force in December. Guatemala recently elected a new president and has a new air chief.
Given those circumstances and the importance of the issues, Goldfein said the annual Conference of American Air Chiefs occurred at a critical time.
“The work we do, shoulder to shoulder, grows more important each year,” Goldfein said. “Many of our allies in the Americas have been bedrock allies for decades. This spirit of cooperation and mutual trust has been a notable trait for many years and it’s clear that that characteristic has never been more important than it is today.”
As in previous years, the topics for discussion spanned a wide range. While the dominant focus was how best to collaborate and coordinate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, there also were discussions on how to share intelligence and improve joint situational awareness; how to refine ongoing efforts to combat illicit air traffic, and opportunities for joint training and personnel exchange, among others.
Goldfein also said there were discussions about space, particularly each nation’s interest in launch capabilities and satellites. That focus, he said, is a byproduct of a meeting about space April 17 in Colorado with air chiefs from 11 developed nations.
“Each country is moving forward on both of these areas and I had a great conversation (previously) with my fellow air chief from Brazil talking about what Brazil is doing leaning forward in the space business,” said Goldfein.
The United States also provided a demonstration of a new, upgraded radio network that allows pilots to communicate better with officials on the ground. That capability is critical not just for military operations but for humanitarian missions as well, Goldfein said.
The system, called Aeronet, is a resilient “mesh network” that was fitted on a propeller driven aircraft for the demonstration.
In addition to meeting the air chiefs, Goldfein visited the Cooperative Security Location, known locally as “Comalapa.” The facility provides security, logistics, infrastructure and operational support to forward deployed U.S. aviation units participating in interagency counter-narcotics and illegal trafficking operations.
He also met with the Minister of Defense, Colonel Rene Francis Merino-Monroy, U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador, Jean Manes, and El Salvador’s new President Nayib Bukele.