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Latin class

Argentinean Exercise Ceibo 2005

Bob Archer reports from Central Argentina on the first major multi-national exercise hosted by the nation - superb weather conditions and a remote location added to the success of Ceibo 2005.

The Latin American continent has been largely free of full-scale conflicts for several generations - granted, there have been border disputes, and small-scale skirmishes, but these have petered out due to the intervention and mediation of neighbouring nations, or where common sense has prevailed. The traditional Latin American laid-back lifestyle has also been instrumental in the continent's largely peaceful co-existence. Due to this posture, many South American air arms are equipped with much second generation hardware in their frontline, supported by a fairly extensive communications and transport fleet due to the huge expanse of territory that some nations need to protect. Surprisingly, the Latin nations have not banded together to exercise their forces alongside one another - more recently this has begun to change, with both Brasil and Chile hosting multinational flying exercises. Having participated in these events, Argentina has begun to host the bi-annual exercise Ceibo, with the latest taking place in the central region, close to the Andes Mountains, between 14-25 November 2005.

Argy bargy
Brazilian blend
Chilean spice

The location for most of the Ceibo 2005 participants was Base Aerea Militar El Plumerillo at Mendoza, located to the north of the city of the same name. The purpose of the exercise was for the air arms of Brasil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina to integrate their forces as part of an interoperability programme, bringing together the closely related members of the expanded Mercosur (Common Market of the South). This was the first time that overseas air arms had been brought together for an exercise of this type in Argentina. Flight operations were restricted to an air corridor located between Mendoza, Villa Reynolds and Villa Mercedes in San Luis Province, this largely desolate terrain enabling low-level sorties to take place without creating any noise nuisance to the local populace.

More than fifty military aircraft and some eight hundred personnel from Brasil, Chile, Uruguay, and Argentina took part in the two-week exercise. The Brasilians sent six of their new AMX A-1A/Bs from 1/16GAv at Santa Cruz, while the Chileans brought four SABCA Mirage M5MAs, and one M5MD Elkans (these being former Belgian Air Force Mirage Vs) of Grupo 8 from Cerro Moreno BAM Antofagasta, and the Uruguayans a trio of Cessna A-37B Dragonflies from Brigada Aerea II at Santa Bernardina Airport, Durazno. The host nation contributed the largest contingent, with nine Mirages, divided between three AMD Mirage IIIEAs, four IAI Fingers, and two AMC Mirage 5P/Maras; eight McDonnell-Douglas A-4AR/OA-4AR Fightinghawks, and five FMA IA.58A Pucaras. In addition the resident IV Bragada Aerea was involved with their MS.760 Paris simulating light attack missions, while the Fabrica Militar de Aviones (FMA) IA.63 Pampa was flown in both the air-to-ground and air superiority role. In both cases, these missions were performed by instructors and experienced students. An Aerospatiale SA.315B Lama of the Busqueda y Rescate y Tareas Especiales was maintained on Combat Search and Rescue, but was not called upon to fly. This was backed up by a solitary Bell 212 (which was painted white overall, following United Nations duties in Cyprus). A Paraguayan Air Force helicopter (possibly the Helibras HB.350B Eaquilo) was also due to have been involved, but failed to materialise. However Paraguay and Bolivia sent observers, and there were also Venezuelan personnel in attendance.

Excerise Scenario

The exercise scenario was based on the hypothesis that a nation had been invaded by a neighbour - the United Nations had tabled a resolution calling for the aggressor to return to its recognised border. Following intransigence by the 'red forces', the UN mandate allowed for coalition forces to compel the invaders to return through the use of force. Combat missions were flown, including simulated strike and attack sorties, while other assets flew air defence for the fighter packages. These were supported by a single Lockheed Martin KC-130H Hercules tanker providing aerial refuelling. The first week of the exercise was devoted to familiarisation flying, enabling the four nations to become accustomed with one another's capabilities and experience levels. Command of each daily mission rotated between the participating nations, thereby providing invaluable and necessary leadership skills to be developed by personnel at all levels. The second week was dedicated to the live-ex component, with packages arranged with as much realism as could be included within peacetime safety constraints. A quartet of Argentinean Mirages was located at BAM Villa Reynolds/Coronel Pringles Air Station, near San Luis, to act as air defenders for the red forces. No Airborne Early Warning capability was involved, although three Westinghouse TPS-43E ground-based air defence radars was strategically positioned to provide the 'big picture' for the blue forces operating from Mendoza.

Two packages were launched each day, commencing with the KC-130H departing Mendoza to set up an orbit for the aerial refuelling component. All of the participating nations utilise air refuelling routinely, except Uruguay, whose A-37B crews practiced with neighbouring air arm tankers prior to the exercise. The remainder of the aircraft departed in flights over the following hour, in a pattern based loosely upon 'Red Flag' exercises in the USA. Each 'blue forces' package was tasked with a specific objective to achieve, with the red forces air defence assets flying intercept, to generally disrupt the attacking elements.

Superb weather conditions throughout enabled all missions to be launched as planned, although those on Tuesday 22 November were extremely close to limit. A low-pressure front from the Andes Mountains combined with high temperatures, hovering around the 38 C degree mark, came extremely close to causing some of the Mirage sorties to be outside of safety limits. Just one more degree of heat would have ruled the weather conditions to be unsafe for Mirages to launch. While the Argentine aircraft took to the air with ease, the Chilean Elkans struggled to become airborne, with one literally exerting great effort to narrowly miss the slums located under the flightpath in a village at the end of the runway.

The exercise having successfully taken place without any sorties being lost to weather constraints, the final day (Friday 25 November) was declared to be non-flying, and devoted to academic studies of the previous day's activities. Overall Ceibo '05 was a success, and will be staged again by Argentina in a couple of years or so. It is expected that additional air arms will participate to expand the complexity of operations.

The visiting aircraft began departing for their home bases early on Saturday 26 November, with all the fighters having left Mendoza by mid-morning. Ground personnel were airlifted home to Chile and Uruguay by C-130s, while the Brasilians were supported by a Boeing 707. The large Argentinean contingent was ferried to their bases by a Boeing 707 which flew two round trips. The final sortie took place on 27 November, with the air base being completely deserted later in the day.

In the thick of it...

The temperature on the concrete ramp at Mendoza is hovering around the plus-40 mark. Engineers busy themselves with last-minute duties as the pilot performs his pre-flight checks. The author settles into the rear seat of the little Moraine Saulnier MS.760 Paris - well, for 'rear seat' read the parachute pack... With all systems functioning as required, the pilot presses the start button enabling the two 1000 lb static thrust Turbomeca Marboré II engines to crank into life. A call to the tower and 'Porto 01' taxies to the runway end in company with 'Porto 02' alongside. Ahead are a pair of Argentine Mirage IIIEAs, while behind are four A-4AR Fightinghawks. All eight aircraft are planned for different targets in the 'red forces' area.

The Paris is tasked with destroying a small, but important bridge, thereby denying the enemy 'red forces' the opportunity of crossing into 'blue forces' territory. After departing from Mendoza, and transiting at high level through friendly air space, the Paris descends to extremely low-level to overfly the vast, deserted wasteland that comprises central Argentina, known as Cuyo. The region is around seven hundred metres above sea level, and the Paris cruises over the desert area about a hundred metres above the ground. The pilot, co-pilot and passenger are all alert for red forces interceptors, but non are seen, although a pair of 'friendly' Pucaras fly close by. A small hand-held Global Positioning System indicates that the target is ahead - the pilot climbs slightly to acquire it visually before commencing the attack run. A steep dive at the target, followed by the simple word 'pickle', signifies the bomb has been released and the bridge is destroyed. The transit back to Mendoza is at medium level, in company with the second Paris. The sortie is performed precisely on time, with departure and time over target allocated on a 'fragmentation order'.

Two Paris's were included in the composition of each package. The Paris has been in service for more than 45 years, and there are no plans to replace the nimble little twin in the foreseeable future. In fact, personnel with Escuadron II, which operates the Paris, anticipate the type celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2009.

Mendoza Air Show

The air base arranged a two-day airshow for the middle weekend of Ceibo '05. A small static park was composed of one of each of the participants, together with some retired aircraft types that are destined for a museum at the base. Personnel were on hand to answer all manner of questions posed by the public. The flying programme was composed of Argentine types exclusively, with the Spanish language commentary relating to exploits of the Mirage, Skyhawk and Pucara during the campaign in the 'Malvinas Isles'. The spectators were wildly enthusiastic with these three types' routines, in particular, with fervent clapping and cheering every time that the Malvinas was mentioned. The trio of English photographers present were treated with amusement and inquisitiveness by the Argentineans. The Brits, for their part, were bemused by the enthusiasm to regain some small chunks of rock in the windswept South Atlantic, which have no financial or mineral value, but which continue to be a political pawn, our views on the sovereignty of the Malvinas/Falklands even making headlines in the local newspaper. Whatever the feelings, the exercise was enjoyed by all, and offered photography of types which are either no longer in service in Europe, or which have never been part of aviation scene on this side of the Atlantic.

The author would like to acknowledge the assistance of fellow travellers Chris Lofting, Alan Warnes, Tieme Festner, and Iwan Bogels.

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