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26 stycznia 2015

A small force with a big task - the Paraguayan Air Force

The Paraguayan Air Force is one of the smallest in South America, but this doesn’t means they don’t accomplish with a very important mission for their country, not only defending the skies, but also linking isolated populations.

 Paraguay is located almost in the middle of South America, with borders with Brazil to the north and East, Argentina to the south and Bolivia to the west, having no access to the ocean but through the long Parana River across Argentina. Despite having a good relation with its neighbours, Paraguay had wars with all of them and even with Uruguay, but the last war, with Bolivia, took place between 1932 and 1935, almost eighty years ago. Currently, the main threats to the country are the drug traffickers and a small guerrilla group called Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (EPP, Paraguayan People’s Army), who initiated actions around 2010 and, despite making only some small actions, their presence required the participation of the Air Force in support of ground forces.

The Fuerza Aérea Paraguaya (FAP, Paraguayan Air Force), was born when in 22 February 1923 the MilitaryAviationSchool was created with a very small fleet of planes. From 1932 to 1935 they took an active part on the war with Bolivia, with their first victory on air-to-air combat being achieved on 12 August 1934, when the Potez 25 T.O.E serialled 11 comanded by Captain Peralta shot down the Bolivian Curtiss Osprey serialled 78. In 1939 the Paraguayan Military Aviation became the Arma Aérea Paraguaya (AAP, Paraguayan Air Arm), still dependant from the Army. During and after World War 2 they received a lot of Vultee BT-13A Valiant, Fairchild PT-19 and AT-6C Texan trainers from the USA but no fighters. In 1947, the Regimiento de Paracaidistas Silvio Petirossi (now brigade), was created, being until today the sole paratrooper unit of the force. Later on, in 1954 the Transporte Aéreo Militar (TAM) was created to link the most isolated towns of the country, especially on the north and west, on the Chaco region, where there are very few and unpaved roads. In 1966 the force started to be organized in groups on an organization that still survives, starting with the Grupo Aéreo de Entrenamiento y Transporte (GAET) and the Grupo de Entrenamiento Táctico (GET), while two years later the first helicopter unit was formed inside the GAET. With the arrival of the Embraer Xavantes, in 1980 the Grupo Aerotáctico was created and in 1985 the Sección Helicópteros of the GAET became the Escuadrón Helicópteros and in 1988, Grupo Aéreo de Helicópteros (GAH). Also, in 1988 the GAET was reorganized and the Grupo de Transporte Aéreo (GTA) and the Grupo Aéreo de Entrenamiento (GAT) were formed, as well as the Grupo Aéreo de Transporte Especial (GATE). Finally, in 29 June 1989 the Fuerza Aérea Paraguaya was officially created, being the last South American air force to become independent from the Army. In 1992 the GAE was renamed Grupo Aéreo de Instrucción (GAI), while the Grupo Aéreo de Fotogrametría (GAF) and Grupo Aéreo de Mantenimiento (GAM) were created. 

Current status

The Paraguayan Air Force currently has about 1,000 men and three main air bases, being Ñu Guazú, at the town of Luque, close to Asunción, the facilities at SilvioPetirossiInternationalAirport (very close to Ñu Guazú) and Concepción Air Base, about 200 to the north of Asunción, created in 1996. Also, on that year the Guaraní Air Base at Ciudad del Este was created, but without units stationed there. Another small air bases are Capitán Meza, Aviadores del Chaco and Yaciretá to the Routh and Adrián Jara, Teniente Pratts Gill and Nueva Asunción on the region of the Chaco. All of them have small unpaved runways and have no units, being used only on deployments. The air units are organized into the I Brigada Aérea, created in 1992 and divided into the groups with all the flying units of the force. Its headquarters are at SilvioPetirossiAirport. Other units are the Brigada Aerotransportada Silvio Peitrossi in charge of base security, combat rescue missions and special forces operations. The Grupo Aéreo Fotogramétrico uses planes of the GATE for Photo reconnaissance missions, while the Grupo Aéreo de Mantenimiento (GAM), is the main maintenance unit, to which depends the Servició de Mantenimiento Aeronáutico (SEMAER), in charge of all the main maintenance of the FAP planes. Usually, the main maintenance of the Tucanos and Esquilos is performed in Brazil in their factories, while for some of the smaller planes of the GATE civil workshops are contracted.

Grupo Aerotáctico (GAT)

It’s the only combat unit of the force and currently is equipped only with six Embraer Emb-312 Tucanos, which equip the Tercer Escuadrón de Caza “Moros”. On 6 November 1987 six Emb-312A Tucanos were received for attack and advanced training, forming the “Gamma” and “Omega” escadrilles. They are usually armed with Mk.81 or 82, Avibrás M2A1 400 pound napalm bombs, Avibrás 70/7M5A or Equipaer EQ-LMF-70/7AP seven tube 70mm rocket launchers or Twin Mag Pods with two MAG 7.62mm machine guns, using four pylons under the wings. For practice, they also use 11 kilos bombs. On 19 October 1989 the Tucano serialled 1056 was lost on an accident at Itaipú airport, with the loss of the two pilots. On 5 March 1995 another accident occurred, when the 1054 crashed, killing also the two pilots and, finally, on 10 March 1998 the 1055 crashed at Ayolas airport, again killing the two crew members. From June 2005 they started to take part on combined exercises with other air forces, this time with the Brazilian Air Force on the exercises called Parbra, with its second edition in May 2009. These exercise consist on the interception of illegal flights crossing the border to and from Brazil, working together with the ground and airborne units dedicated to detect and intercept them between both air forces. Because of the low availability of planes, in 2010 an agreement was signed with the Brazilian Air Force after which the last transferred three additional Tucanos in exchange for Boeing 707 and Xavante spares, recovering the GAT fleet in some ways. Increasing the participation on international exercises, the unit took part, between 19 and 23 December 2012, on the Arpa 1 exercise with the Argentine Air Force, also consisting on the interception of illegal flights. Finally, between 6 and 10 May 2013 they took part on the Parbra III. On this last exercise were used the two recently acquired Elta EL/M 2106NG 3D mobile radars purchased in 2012, with a maximum range of 80km and an effective one between 40 to 60km. They are the first radars to provide some kind of air coverage of the Paraguayan air space. One of them was recently installed on the roof of Silvio Petirossi air base and the other was mounted on a truck. With them, the intention is to guide the Tucanos on interceptions against illegal flights, which are the most important mission the planes are performing currently. A law to permit the shooting down of the planes performing illegal operations is currently being debated on the congress. As the last Emb-326GB Xavantes were retired in 2004 and never replaced, the force remained without any combat capable jet. As part of the plans to equip the force with a plane with more capacity than the Tucano, in November 2014 the Raytheon AT-6 Texan II was analyzed in Asunción as a possible replacement, while the force also analyzed offers for Embraer Super Tucanos and KAI KT-1, those last, to be assembled in Paraguay. They are also studying the possibilities to buy a jet aircraft, having analyzed the Yak-130, but the budget constraints make this impossible at the moment.

Grupo Aéreo de Instrucción (GAI), Concepción Air Base

For basic training, in 1992 the force purchased twelve Enaer T-35A Pillán from Chile, to replace the old Aerotec Uirapurú, the Neiva Universal and the T-6 Texan. Because of the loss of the plane serialled 0111 just one month after arriving to Paraguay, a new plane was bought to replace it, using the same serial. The Pilláns formed the Escuadrón Fénix of the GAI, divided into the “Antares” and “Pantera” escadrilles. In 1997, due to the increase on air traffic around Asunción, the unit was transferred from Ñu Guazú to Concepción, being the sole unit destined on that base. In 2004 two planes were lost, the new 0111 and the 0103, reducing the fleet to ten examples, which are still operational. Meanwhile, in 2005 the Brazilian Air Force donated six Neiva T-25 Universal, which formed the Segunda Escuadrilla de Entrenamiento of the GAI. Currently, as the planes were old, only one remains in service, used for liaison duties.

Grupo Aéreo de Transporte Especial (GATE)

The GATE is in charge of VIP and liaison duties, being originally based at Ñu Guazú and currently at Silvio Petirossi, with a fleet that changed a lot through the years, mainly of small planes. Currently they have one Cessna U206C/G Stationair II remaining from a batch of five purchased in 1980, two Cessna T206H bought in 2013, two Cessna 208B Grand Caravan purchased in 2011, two Cessna 310 received in 2009 one from the Army and the other from the Defence Ministry (one is out of service at Concepción and the other was retired and remains at Silvio Petirossi) and a single Cessna 402B received in 1974 (currently is the plane with longer service time in the FAP). They also operate a single Beech C-90 King Air with civil serial and belonging to the Paraguayan National Electricity Administration. At last, they expect to receive a Beech 58 Baron which also belonged to the Paraguayan Army Aviation and when this arm was disbanded in 2009 was transferred to the FAP, but the plane was out of service after an accident suffered in 2006 and currently is being repaired at the Grupo Aéreo de Mantenimiento. Besides its VIP and liaison duties, they perform observation, SAR, medical evacuation and antidrug operations. The Gran Caravans were a great acquisition for them, increasing considerably the capabilities of the unit, especially on medical evacuation flights. Also, the Cessna U206, serialled FAP 210, is prepared to drop paratroopers, being used regularly by the paratroop school of the Brigada Paracaidista for training.

Grupo de Transporte Aéreo (GTA)

The GTA operates also from Silvio Petirossi and it’s the main transport unit of the force, equipped with a dingle DHC-6-200 Twin Otter, four CASA C-212-200 and one EADS CASA C-212-400. The Twin Otter was purchased for presidential use by dictator General Alfredo Stroessner, receiving the civil serial ZP-GAS, depending from the presidency but operated by the FAP. In 1989, with the fall of Stroessner, the plane was transferred to the FAP and serialled FAP-01, later FAP-02 and finally FAP-2036. The Casa 212-200 were purchased in 1984, replacing the old DC-3 and C-47, with excellent results. In 2004 an example of the -400 series was purchased and currently they are analyzing the purchase of more units. Also, they are studying the recovery of the FAP 2029, out of service for many years, while they are working on the return to service of the FAP 2033. The C-212-400 is equipped with a kit for medical evacuation, used on those kind of missions like the Grand Caravans of the GATE. The C-212s are the main transports of the force, being used for cargo and passenger operations, as well as paratroopers launching. From this unit depends the SETAM (Servicio de Transporte Aéreo Militar), which carries passenger flights to isolated towns on the Chaco region, all Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, flying to the towns of Concepción, Vallemi, Fuerte Olimpo, Bahía Negra, Toro Pampa and La Victoria. Those services had been suspended in 1998 and restarted in 2012, with current plans to increase the routes and frequencies.

Grupo Aéreo de Helicópteros (GAH), Ñu Guazú Air Base

The sole helicopter unit of the FAP currently is equipped with three Helibras HB-350B Esquilo purchased in 1987, eight AIDC Bell UH-1H and one Bell 427. The Esquilos were purchased new to replace the Hiller SL-4 and UH-12E4T for training, liaison and scout and from the original batch the H-028 was lost on the same year of arrival. Currently the surviving three are out of service, but the plan is to recover them at Helibras factory from 2015 at a rate of one per year. Usually they operate armed with seven tube 70mm rocket launchers and two machine guns of 7.62 or 12.7mm on pods. The first two UH-1H were donated by the government of Taiwan to replace the two UH-1B that the FAP had, but one of them was lost on an accident shortly after. In 2001 another two were donated, followed by four in 2002 and two more in 2006. In 2010 the H-0437 was lost, replaced in 2013 by another example donated by Taiwan. One of the helicopters was retired and is currently a monument at the entrance of the GAH, while another three are out of service and were cannibalized. The UH-1Hs are being widely used on the northeast of the country, deployed at Concepción, on the fight against the guerrilla forces of the Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (EPP), which was detected in late 201, when they attacked an Army unit. The missions against them include reconnaissance, air assault, medical evacuation and transport. In some skirmishes with the guerrillas they fired upon the helicopters and in one case a UH-1H was slightly damaged. On those operations, the UH-1Hs usually fly armed with Heckler & Koch 7.62mm machine guns. They are also widely used on transport duties by the Joint Task Force with the Police and the Antidrug Secretary on the eradication of marihuana fields. Currently, those helicopters are being modernized, with a multifunction display for navigation, new VOR and ILS. At last, in 2011 the unit received, also donated by Taiwan, a single Bell 427 for presidential use, to replace the Agusta A-109A retired in 1999.

The future

Currently, the replacement of the Xavantes and a reinforcement to the Emb-312 Tucanos are among the most important requirements that the FAP has and one of the most delayed due to budget cuts. The Raytheon AT-6 Texan II is the model that has liked most to the force, but there’s still lack of political decision for the purchase of a batch, which most probably, will be of six examples. The GATE is the other unit that has big growing plans, with the intention of buying three additional Grand Caravans, to reach a total of five, one Cessna T-206 extra and two VIP plans, which could be twoo Beech 250 Super King Air or one 250 and one C90 King Air. The GAT also is looking for the purchase of at least one extra C-212-400 to increase the operations of the SETAM.

Order of battle of the Fuerza Aérea Paraguaya

Unit

Model

Fleet

Enlisted

Serial

Notes

1º Brigada Aérea

Grupo Aerotáctico (GAT)

3º Escuadrón de Operaciones Especiales Moros

Embraer EMB-312 Tucano

6

6/11/87

1051 to 1059

The 1054, 1055 and 1056 lost on accidents.

Grupo Aéreo de Transportes Especiales (GATE)

 

Cessna U206C/G

1

1980

0210

 

Cessna T206H

2

2013

0235 and0236

 

Beechcraft 58 Baron

1

2009

0232

Belonged to the Army, out of service

Cessna 310

2

2009

0231 and 0233

Belonged to the Army, out of service

Cessna 402

1

1974

0221

 

Cessna Grand Caravan

2

2011

0250 and 0251

 

Grupo de Transporte Aéreo (GTA)

Servicio de Transporte Aéreo Militar

DHC-6 Twin Otter

1

1968

2036

Officially enlisted by the FAP in 1989.

CASA C-212-200

4

1984

2027, 2029, 2031 and 2033

The 2029 out of service

CASA C-212-400

1

2004

2035

 

Grupo Aéreo de Helicópteros (GAH)

Escuadrón Helicópteros

Helibras HB-350 Esquilo

3

1987

H-025 to H-027

Out of service

Bell UH-1H

8

1996

H-0429 to H-0439

All donated by Taiwan

Escuadrilla Presidencial

Bell 427

1

2011

H-0401

Donated by Taiwan

Grupo Aéreo de Instrucción (GAI)

Escuadrón Fénix

ENAER T-35A/B Pillán

10

1992

0101 to 0112

The 0103 and the two 0111 lost on accidents

Neiva T-25 Universal

1

2005

0130 to 0135

Four out of service