FRONT OF THE LINE

Colombia 2013 | DIPLOMACY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to General Tito Saúl Pinilla Pinilla, Commander of the Colombian Air Force (FAC), on the department's collaboration with foreign countries and drive to protect the security of the country and region.

General Tito Saúl Pinilla Pinilla
BIOGRAPHY
Prior to becoming Commander of the Colombian Air Force (FAC), General Tito Saúl Pinilla Pinilla was Director of Air Force Intelligence in 2006. He then went on to become Director of Intelligence at Joint Special Operations Command in Bogotá during 2007-2009. In 2009, he served as Air Operations Chief of the FAC, before becoming Joint Special Operations Commander in 2011. He studied with the US Air Force between 1986 and 1993 and has been a Military Pilot since 1977.

How significant is the participation of the Colombian Air Force (FAC) in the overall security of the country?

The FAC is one of the several departments that make up the Military Forces of Colombia (FMC). In this regard, forces like ours have played a key role in reducing insecurity, kidnappings, and crime levels across the entire country, which has strengthened our reputation and position at the international level, including that of the FAC. Our people, who are recognized for their highly qualified and technical level of preparation, are among our strongest assets. In fact, many of our pilots hold Bachelor's and Master's degree in different fields, in addition to their international certification, to perform their duties. As a result, we have a very professional body of staff. At the same time, in the last few years we have crucially increased technology levels in all areas. The FAC has gone from being considered a first-generation national force to be recognized today as a fourth-generation force at the international level, which puts us at the same level as any other superpower in the world. In fact, the FAC has taken part in major operations against terrorism in the country, which clearly speaks of our success both at the tactical and technical level. Such improvements have partly been possible thanks to the international agreements that we have with the armed forces of other countries. Also, due to our high levels of innovation and technological advancement, we have forced terrorist groups to completely change their strategies. Today, we can proudly say that Colombia has made great strides when it comes to national security.

Which countries is the FAC closely working with?

Due to our proximity, we work closely with the Brazilian Air Force. In fact, several aircraft and a part of our transportation fleet were produced in Brazil. Also, we are in the process of implementing a joint project, in which some ministries are involved in the design and development of future airplanes for the FAC. We plan to set up a production plant in Valle del Cauca, where we will produce different aircraft sections. In addition, we have developed our own training aircraft, and we have been displaying it around the world at several fairs. It has raised a lot of interest among other Latin American countries that could purchase it for their own air forces. Right now, we have assembled 11 of the 25 training aircraft that have to be finished by December 2013. These 11 aircraft are already in use at our Air Academy in Cali.

What is the size of FAC operations, and what are your main strengths?

We are the smallest unit in the FMC with 15,000 people. I would like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few." In this regard, we have collaborated in many humanitarian missions around the world, such as the earthquake in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan. Also, we have developed our own educational programs in mechanical engineering, management, and administration. In fact, our university is the sixth most reputable and recognized in the country, with our courses leading in their fields. Young people are very avid users of technology and have a different mindset. They have played a key role in boosting R&D activities in the FAC. For example, in our Arpía attack helicopters, our pilots have their own personalized helmets that use advanced technology to move the weapons of the helicopter to wherever the pilot is looking. The peculiarity of this helmet is that it is personalized for each pilot. We currently produce them in Colombia. This is just one example of many I could give you, for we have several such projects in terms of ammunition, weaponry, and drones, for example. All of our projects have attracted the interest of many countries that want to purchase such technology. Colombia has the only flight simulator in Latin America for UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which is widely used not only in Colombia, but by the air forces of Brazil and Chile, among others. Our main goal is to make Colombia the regional leader in terms of innovation, technological use, production, and training facilities in the air force segment.

“Colombia has the only flight simulator in Latin America for UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters."