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Nations Take Wing to Keep a Watchful Eye Above FA PANAMAX 2007

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070902-05
Release Date: 9/2/2007 12:22:00 PM


By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Barrie Barber, U.S. Fleet Forces Command Navy Reserve Public Affairs

TOCUMEN, Panama (NNS) -- Multinational civil and military aircraft have joined forces in the skies to keep a watchful eye above Fuerzas Alidas (FA) PANAMAX 2007 while U.S. Navy and other nations’ warships patrol the seas around the Panama Canal.

Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Panama have based maritime surveillance planes at Tocumen International Airport outside Panama City to work hand-in-hand with the ships at sea during the exercise from Aug. 29-Sept. 7.

The planes patrol both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts during PANAMAX near the neutral waterway vital to global commerce and regional peace and prosperity, according to officials.

The U.S. Air Force, in cooperation with the Panamanian National Air Service, has set up a communications nerve center at the airstrip that is linked to a Combined Air and Space Operations Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, said Maj. Mark Webb, a PANAMAX liaison officer at Tocumen.

“There’s a strong cooperative spirit,” Webb said. “They all understand what they are here for.”

PANAMAX tests interoperability with aircraft and ships in real-world like situations, participants said. The Tocumen air center stays in close contact with USS Wasp (LHD 1), lead ship of the exercise.

Argentina’s and Chile’s navies each have sent aloft one P-3 maritime patrol aircraft to take a big picture view of what is going on, over and below the horizon, pilots said.

“It’s important because we can learn and improve,” said Cmdr. Fabian Magnacca, commander of the PANAMAX naval air contingent from Argentina. “We can cooperate and learn from other countries.”

The Panamanian National Air Service puts into practice knowledge gained in the skies and inside the communications center, said 2nd Lt. Maribel Chavez, a PANAMAX strategic planner.

“This exercise is very important for our service because we learn to work together,” she said.

Panamanian 2nd Lt. Hans Zimmermann, a T-35 pilot, expects the unexpected during scenarios in the exercise.

“Every year, it’s a challenge,” said Zimmermann, who is flying the single-engine plane for the second consecutive year at PANAMAX. “Every year, you have a different situation.”

He also keeps a sharp eye in the cockpit for an unwanted visitor in the air.

“Here in Panama we have a lot of birds, especially low flying birds, which makes it dangerous,” he said.

To keep an eye on what is happening, a nine-member Colombian Navy crew flies in a twin-engine CASA CN-235 to snap photos, shoot video and obtain other surveillance to share with the naval armada, said Lt. Cmdr. Giovanni Laguado, the plane’s pilot.

“We enjoy the combination of resources with all countries,” the naval aviator said.

Panamanian National Air Service Master Sgt. Erasmo Bernal said each year the multinational exercise gives the Central American nation an edge in its defense.

“Year by year, we are learning how to improve and how to protect the Atlantic and the Pacific side of the county and the Panama Canal,” he said. “We involve international countries in the exercise because we’d like to improve our training.”

FA PANAMAX 2007 is a U.S. Southern Command joint and multinational exercise involving 19 nations that have deployed 30 vessels, a dozen aircraft and more than 7,000 personnel. The annual exercise started with three nations – Chile, Panama and the United States – in 2003.

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