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January 17, 2008— The Air Force has unveiled a plan to help Central American air forces acquire modern transport aircraft, utility helicopters, and air sovereignty platforms to replace dilapidated Vietnam War-era aircraft, USAF’s top general in the region said yesterday.

The Regional Aircraft Modernization Program, or RAMP, would allow El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua to acquire these new aircraft in phases, Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, commander of 12th Air Force and Air Forces Southern, told reporters Jan. 16 during a meeting in the Pentagon.

The key aspects of the plan are US funding support to cover the lion’s share of the costs as well as the commitment by the four participants to establish regional hubs for training, logistics, and maintenance to defray infrastructure and support costs that each nation could not shoulder on its own, he said.

“There is no disagreement by anyone that the Central American air forces need help,” Seip said. “We gifted them things back in the 1970s and those aircraft are about to fall off of the face of the Earth.”

By not helping these nations with recapitalization, he said, USAF runs the risk of “becoming their surrogate air force and doing their business, which is something we probably don’t want to do.”

The Air Force is currently looking for Congressional buy-in and sources of funding across the US government, Seip said.

Phase 1 of RAMP, pegged at up to $56 million, entails each nation acquiring up to four new medium airlift platforms, according to briefing charts that he presented. These aircraft notionally would be capable of short takeoff and landing and would carry light weapons and serve in a variety of roles, including: conducting command and control, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, fire fighting, and medical evacuation; supporting counternarcotics efforts, law enforcement, and personnel recovery; and combating transnational crime and terrorism.

The C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft is not considered an option here, Seip said. Instead less sophisticated and costly options are under review.

Phase 2 would cost about $96 million, according to Seip’s charts. During it, each of the four nations would acquire up to four medium-lift utility helicopters. Like the airlifters, these helicopters would be capable of carrying light weapons and probably would handle the same types of multiple roles.

Under RAMP’s $128 million final phase, the nations would each acquire up to medium interceptor platforms for air sovereignty, the charts show.

Five-years of contractor logistics support would accompany each phase, Seip said.

“Over that five-year period, these nations could put their airmen into the program to learn how to sustain these airplanes, so that when that contract ends, they are now capable of continuing to repair and fly airplanes,” he said.

AFSOUTH tentatively plans to conduct infrastructure site visits in the participating nations in April. The goal is to have memoranda of understanding signed with each nation in June to define and clarify “all aspects of regionalization,” his briefing charts state.

There may be some synergy between RAMP and Iraqi Air Force modernization, Seip said, when asked. Depending on the airframes that the Iraqis choose for roles like light attack, there may be savings to be gained by the Central American air forces opting for the same platforms, he explained.