D-M Leaders Seek $300M In Aircraft For 4 C. America Nations

D-M Leaders Seek 0M In Aircraft For 4 C. America Nations
March 16th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: D-M Leaders Seek $300M In Aircraft For 4 C. America Nations

D-M Leaders Seek 0M In Aircraft For 4 C. America Nations
Arizona Daily Star (Tucson)
March 16, 2008
Pg. 1
By Aaron Mackey, Arizona Daily Star
Commanders based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base are proposing to spend more than $300 million over the next 15 years to buy dozens of military aircraft for four Central American countries.
The proposal, which would require congressional approval, would outfit Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua with cargo aircraft, helicopters and attack planes.
Known as the Regional Aircraft Modernization Plan, or RAMP, the aid plan would replace Vietnam-era aircraft with modern equivalents so the nations could take a more active role in their defense and emergency response.
The modernization is a long-overdue necessity to keep the nations' air forces from collapsing, say officials with the 12th Air Force, a regional command that oversees U.S. Air Force activity in Latin America and is based at D-M.
The Central American countries then could use the aircraft for jobs currently performed by the U.S. military, such as drug interdiction and natural disaster relief, officials said.
The initial price tag might seem large, but officials said the investment would be recouped because the United States wouldn't have to send in cargo jets, helicopters and other military support as often.
Also, the countries would pay a small percentage of the cost, though officials acknowledge the amount may be negligible.
And even if the plan were approved and the nations given the planes, it wouldn't mean the U.S. military would completely halt its humanitarian aid and other missions in the region.
But such spending is needed to secure the region and ensure problems that originate in Central America don't make their way to the United States, said Col. Jim Russell, operations director for the 12th Air Force.
"If we don't do this, then we aren't addressing the problems on our doorstep," he said.
However, one local expert on Central America was critical of the aid package, saying it fails to address the core causes of the region's woes and requires the nations to spend even more money on their militaries.
Poverty rates are high in these countries, said Elizabeth Oglesby, a University of Arizona associate professor of Latin-American studies. "It seems to me that the last thing they need is to be spending scarce resources on military aircraft," she said.
The military aircraft of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua are at a breaking point, said Lt. Col. Troy Hewgley, director of theater security and cooperation for the 12th Air Force.
On any given day, fewer than a quarter of the four countries' aircraft are able to fly. Many are more than 40 years old.
Given the time and effort it would take to repair the aircraft, it makes sense to replace them and look at ways the countries can collaborate on issues such as training, logistics and regional defense, Hewgley said.
If funded by Congress, the aid package would be spent over 15 years in three phases. Officials with the 12th Air Force hope to begin the process in September.
In the first phase, the countries would get 16 medium-sized cargo aircraft capable of being used in a wide range of roles at an estimated cost of $84 million.
The planes' primary mission would be to ferry supplies in the event of a natural disaster or other crisis, something the United States already does.
Each plane would cost about $5.5 million, which is comparable to what the U.S. military spends when it responds to hurricanes and other incidents in the region, Russell said.
"You could pay for one aircraft for what we currently do in a week," he said.
The second phase would buy 16 helicopters for the countries at roughly $96 million. The third phase, in which the United States would purchase 16 fighter or interceptor planes, is pegged at $128 million.
The aid would come with a provision that would require the nations share facilities and the long-term costs, such as pilot training and maintenance.
The goal of the cost-sharing is to foster a sense of regional defense and establish logistical and maintenance hubs that could be used by each of the four countries, Hewgley said.
"They would respond to help each other on regional problems and it could break dependency" on the United States, he said.
Negotiations on how much each country would pay for the new aircraft would take place in the future, though Hewgley and Russell both said the United States likely would pay the vast majority of the bill.
Given that Central American countries received so much military aid in the 1980s, it doesn't make sense to continue to fund programs such as the Air Force's while there's little investment in civilian aid, said Oglesby, the UA professor.
Oglesby, who lived in Guatemala for several years and has studied Central America for more than 20 years, said the four countries targeted for aircraft aid already spend too much on their militaries.
"There was a very large military escalation in the past and all four of those countries were spending an excessive percentage of their budget on military expenditures," she said. "Those countries are still dealing with the aftermath of that buildup."
Instead of investing in the military, the United States should look at ways to help the nations develop stronger civilian leadership and better economies, according to Oglesby.
"Increased military spending will do nothing to decrease poverty or stem the tide of migration from Central America to the United States," she said. "The bottleneck is not that the military doesn't have enough aircraft it's that state institutions aren't strong enough."
But Hewgley said the program differs from older military-aid initiatives because it requires the countries to take an active role in the long-term stability of the region.
By helping the countries achieve self-sufficiency and sovereignty, the region would become stronger and better able to deal with narcotics trafficking and other security concerns, Hewgley said. That will translate into a safer Western Hemisphere, which will ultimately benefit the U.S., he said.
"Without help, the problems that Central America faces down the line become U.S. problems," Hewgley said.

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