The Canadian Armed Forces began participation in Exercise COOPERACIÓN III over the weekend, a two-week multinational response to a simulated natural disaster in southern Peru which will necessitate an air operation involving search and rescue and humanitarian aid delivery.

Hosted by Peru, the exercise involves 13 countries from the System of Cooperation among the Air Forces of the Americas (SICOFAA), including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Uruguay and the United States.

Canada, which has sent 60 CAF members as well as a CC-130J Hercules transport plane from 426 Squadron and a CH-149 Cormorant helicopter from 413 Squadron, has been a member of SICOFAA since 1992. The Royal Canadian Air Force, which has deployed aircrews from 8 Wing Trenton, 9 Wing Gander, 14 Wing Greenwood, and 19 Wing Comox, last participated in Exercise COOPERACIÓN I, hosted by Chile in 2010.

“The general exercise objectives are to standardize procedures and improve interoperability with various South American air forces, allowing for an efficient and expeditious Canadian response (should our help be requested) in case of a natural disaster,” explained public affairs officer Capt Trevor Reid of 19 Wing Comox.

“The C-130J Hercules will operate from Lima and crews will be provided with realistic humanitarian aid delivery training. The Cormorant will primarily operate from Pisco and crews will focus on SAR training and aid delivery in geographically challenging locations. Given the deserts, beaches, valleys, mountains and ocean in the area, there is high demand for robust helicopters like the Cormorant.” Canadian personnel have also been assigned to the Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOC) in Lima and Pisco.

The exercise marks a milestone for the Cormorant, which was transported to Lima via a CC-177 Globemaster III from 429 Squadron using the RCAF’s recently acquired Air Transport Kit (ATK).

“This aspect of the exercise will test the deployability of the Cormorant in an air expeditionary setting,” Reid said. “We had a successful unload of the Cormorant [on Sunday] and IMP techs are busy as we speak putting it together (the tail and rotors must be removed to fit it in the airplane). The ATK adds another capability to the RCAF in terms of our ability to move Cormorants long distances, be it domestically for operations or maintenance purposes or abroad. [It] certainly has expanded the potential of the Cormorant fleet in terms of our ability to get it places quickly and efficiently.

The ATK was part of a 2011 deal with the U.S. government to acquire nine VH-71s helicopters to provide spare parts for the Cormorant fleet. The U.S. had cancelled its VH-71 presidential helicopter program, an updated version of the CH-149.

At the time, AgustaWestland (AW), the rotorcraft’s manufacturer, suggested that it could reconfigure seven of the nine VH-71s to SAR specifications and undertake a midlife upgrade of the current 14 Cormorants, to give Canada a fleet of 21. The availability of the ATK would allow one to be kept on standby and loaded onto a C-17 for lengthier SAR missions, especially to the Arctic.

National Defence acquired 15 SAR Cormorants from AW in 2002.