[Guyana] More ‘choppers’ for GDF
- –aeroplane, helicopter proposed to boost border security, combat narco-trade
October 23, 2016
THE surveillance capacity of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) will be boosted with the expected acquisition of new fixed and rotor wing aircraft in 2017 and the possible establishment of additional bases across the country.
This is in keeping with the advancement of its national mandate, which among other things include combating the narcotics trade.
The GDF currently operates two helicopters, the GDF One and GDF Two; while its Bell 412 helicopter has for months been unserviceable. In addition, the GDF operates several fixed wing aircraft. However, in the 2017 National Budget, the army’s submissions to the Finance Ministry include funding for the acquisition of additional rotor wing aircraft, models whose capabilities are said to be significantly advanced, as compared to the current Bell 206 helicopters on the army’s roster.
Speaking with Guyana Chronicle, GDF Chief of Staff, Brigadier George Lewis, said a think-tank has been operationalised regarding the identification of threats. He elaborated that a number of suggestions have been put to the Defence Board and the Government; and according to him, there has been agreement that several of the identified suggestions would be applied. He informed that the suggestions have been included in the 2017 National Budget, which is expected to be presented in December by Finance Minister Winston Jordon. “What we don’t know as yet is how much of it we would get,” Lewis noted.
He said that boats for the Coast Guard and rotor wing and fixed wing aircraft for the Air Corps are among the resources identified and put forward for approval in the budget.
METAL SHARK VESSELS
The Chief-of-Staff also pointed out that the army recently acquired two additional Metal Shark-branded boats, and a team from the manufacturer is currently in Guyana training Coast Guard personnel to operate the vessels.
“They will be launched shortly,” he said, noting that the boats would be used offshore Guyana in a role limited to their maritime capability. The boats would primarily be used in riverine areas, and would aid in curtailing the trade of illicit drugs, among other maritime interdiction operations, he revealed.
He also said there is need for another coastal vessel to complement the Coast Guards’ Essequibo base, and plans to this effect are in the pipeline.
Lewis acknowledged that the army had, in recent times, adopted a stronger role in combating the trade of illicit drugs. He said there is knowledge of pick-up and drop-off activities by those involved in the drug trade; and according to him, detection by the military is limited by the absence of surveillance radar and other equipment which are designed to identify such illegal operations.
He noted, however, that the human resource factor plays a key role in the drug fight, and stressed that improvement of intelligence by the GDF in those areas would impact the occurrence of those activities. To this end, he called on the citizenry to alert the authorities, including the GDF, of any suspicious/illegal activity ongoing within their environs.
The veteran of 35 years, who assumed leadership of the GDF in October following the retirement of Brigadier General Mark Phillips, is settling into his role as head of the GDF. Since assuming the role of Chief-of-Staff, he has identified a number of areas which require additional attention, among which is the availability of resources for effective border security — the primary mandate of the military.
There are three army units that manage the land aspect of border security: namely, First Infantry Battalion, Second Infantry Battalion, and Coastal Battalion.
The Chief-of-Staff said the other units within the GDF play a supporting role to those three units “in order to ensure that we achieve our mission”.
Noting that Guyana is a vast country, he said there are limited fixed locations; and in order to bridge the gap regarding the effective provision of border security, patrols are undertaken by boat, foot and vehicles.
“The greatest challenge would be resources, adequate resources. It is utopian; what we try to do is to utilise the resources that we have to maintain border security,” he said.
He said Guyana has no surveillance radar, thus the airspace may be violated by criminal elements. He referred to an incident in which a twin-engine Cessna which allegedly originated in Colombia was discovered on September 13 hidden in the Region Nine village of Yupukari.
Lewis informed that an assessment is being undertaken regarding the improvement of the GDF, and as part of that move, an army base was established and made operational in recent years at Makapa, in the Cuyuni. He said the reason behind establishment of that facility was grounded in the thinking that there was no military facility in the county of Essequibo between Eteringbang on the Guyana/Venezuela border and Mabaruma in the North West District. Lewis said assessment which is ongoing may result in additional army bases being set up across the country, or existing facilities being relocated. He said the move may result in an increase in the number of troops at those facilities, and consequently an improvement of the resources allocated to those areas.