Dick Lohuis looks at the current situation of the Dominican Republic Armed Forces as they undergo modernization.
BASE AEREA San Isidro, some 15 miles (25km) east of Santo Domingo, capital of the Dominican Republic, has been the home of the Fuerza Aerea Dominicana (Dominican Air Force, FAD) since it was opened on March 23, 1953 (today there are also two reserve bases, Santiago-Cibao and Puerto Plata).
In the 1950s, the FAD was the largest air force in the Caribbean, though over the intervening years, its operability has slowly decreased. In the 1970s, it was supported by the US Military Assistance Programme, which brought several trainer and transport aircraft and helicopters, followed by eight OA-37B Dragonflies in 1984 and five 0-2A COIN aircraft in 1988.
Acquisitions in the 1990s comprised mainly impounded aircraft captured from drug-smugglers: the FAD, like most other Caribbean air forces, was involved in the on-going war against drug-smugglers.
The fact that the Dominican Republic (DR) has been frequently hit by natural disasters meant that there was a need for an air force tailored towards this specific tasking. Consequently, at the end of the 20th century, a modernisation programme was created which aimed to increase the FAD’s capability.
One of the first steps in modernising the FAD was the delivery of eight ENAER T-35B Pilans to the Escuela de Aviacon (EdA -Aviation School) at San Isidro between late 1999 and early 2000. The Chilean-built basic trainers replaced the remaining 12 ex-US Navy T-34B Mentors in use since 1977: these were subsequently sold to civilians in the USA. Unfortunately, one of the T-35B Pilans (serialled 1805) suffered a landing incident at San Isidro in June 2002 and has since been out of action. It now sits on jacks inside a hangar, unlikely to be repaired in the near future.
As the operational life of the 0A-37B Dragonfly with Escuadron de Combate ‘Dragones’ ( EdC — Combat Squadron) came to an end in February 2001, the 0A-37B pilots use the T-35B Pilan to keep their flying currency up-to-date. Although the need for an aircraft such as the OA-37B in the war against the drug trade is widely recognised, no replacement aircraft has yet been selected. Strong candidates are the LMAASA AT-63 Pampa, T-6 Texan II and the EMB-314 Super Tucano: although a deal on the latter was finalised a few years ago, it now seems that lack of the necessary funds has resulted in its being shelved.
After retiring the C-47 Dakota in 1994, the Escuadron de Transporte Aereo (EdTA — Air Transport Squadron) re-equipped with a T-41D Mescalero, a Cessna T.207 and a PA-31-300 Navajo: some impounded aircraft were also used from time to time. As part of continuing modernisation, the squadron received the first of three CASA 212-400 on April 14, 2000, the last arriving on January 26, 2001. Augmented by the previously-mentioned Navajo, these Spanish-built transport aircraft now form this squadron, which has the nickname ‘Pegasus’. In the future, the FAD would like to acquire a medium-lift transport aircraft, such as the C-27J Spartan.
The FAD uses helicopters mainly in the transport and search and rescue (SAR) roles. With a handful of UH-1Hs for transport, though just one OH-6A Cayuse and an SA 318C Alouette II for training, the Escuadr6n de Rescate (EdR — Rescue Squadron) acquired four Schweizer 333 training helicopters in November 2003 to boost its training syllabus. Today these helicopters form part of a new unit, the Escuela de Helic6pteros (EdH — Helicopter School). In 2004, further helicopters arrived in the shape of eight ex-US Army UH-1H Huey IIs, which now serve the ‘Aguillas’ squadron. Two surviving UH-IHs from the original batch of six received between 1998-2000 have been returned to service, and now wear the same colour scheme as the Huey IIs.
The latest aircraft to join the FAD were ten ex-Canadian Forces CH-136 Kiowas (Bell 206A-1 helicopters) in 2004: following a custom fit at the Coastal Helicopters facility in Panama City, Florida, the last was delivered early this year. However, one (serialled 3053) was involved in a landing incident and is now out of commission.
The condition of the sole SA.365N Dauphin, which served as the presidential helicopter, has been deemed too poor to continue flying, and a decision on a new one is due soon. Meanwhile, the Escuadrilla Presidencial is leasing a civilian Bell 430.
The lease of a Dominican Army 0H-58A Kiowa from November 2003 to August 2004 convinced the Marina de Guerra (MG, Navy) to acquire helicopters. It is currently establishing its own helicopter unit: five pilots are being trained in the USA and should return in time to start flying the two ex US Army Bell OH-58C Kiowas due for delivery before the end of this year.
Having flown three Cessna T70s in the early 1950s, the Ejercito Nacional (Army) created its new Escuadron de Caballeria AeVea (Training School) on August 10, 2000. The first four pilots trained with the Spanish Army, returning to fly four Robinson helicopters; three R-22 Alpha (two-seaters) and one R-44 Raven (four seats). The R-44 received the serial EN-1844, the number commemorating the year of the Dominican Republic’s independence from Haiti. These four aircraft were followed by a single R-22 and another R-44 in mid-2001. By the end of 2002, the Ejercito Nacional had taken delivery of two ex US Army Bell OH-58C Kiowa helicopters: today it has nine of these versatile helicopters on strength — four OH-58As and five OH-58Cs. The only external difference between the two is that the OH-58A has a curved windshield and the OH-58A a flat one. If landing has to be made onto rough terrain, a pair of high skids can be mounted, increasing the helicopter’s height by 14 inches (35.5cm).
Originally the Robinson helicopters were painted in an attractive camouflage scheme, though following overhaul they will gain the same green colour as the Kiowas, setting them apart from the camouflaged air force helicopters.
In order to boost the number of qualified pilots, elementary helicopter training was undertaken at a number of schools in the United States, among them the Helicenter International Academy in Miami, Florida. Seventy pilots, including five women, are now on strength, and new recruits will be trained in-house. It takes 60 hours before a pilot can go solo, and another 40 for those hoping to become a captain on the R-22. Transition training to the R-44 takes 10 hours (a total of 200 hours to captain). Likewise, it takes another 10 hours to transition to the CH-136/ OH-58 (250 hours to become a captain).
The 350-person unit is independent, reporting directly to the Dominican Republic’s Joint Chief of Staff. Its main task is border patrol, anti-terror and anti-narcotics missions. On December 2,2004, a large anti-drugs operation (Operacion Vaquero) took place along the border with Haiti, in which the Escuadron de Caballeria Aerea played a vital role, deploying six Kiowa helicopters. The unit also flies a variety of army missions, among them VIP transport, medevac, SAR and observation.
With the imminent closure of its current base at Aeropuerto Herrera on the western outskirts of Santo Domingo, the Escuadrdn will move to the newly-built Aeropuerto Internacional La Isabels, near Higuero, later this year. Fleet expansion is planned within two years, involving the introduction of UH-1H IIs: plans for fixed-wing aircraft have been sent to the Senate.
Although finance is always an issue, having installed its new equipment the FAD is now far better placed to protect and serve the people of the Dominican Republic than at any time in its history.