COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AFNS) — The early morning call came through the command center here near Peterson Air Force Base on July 27 — a simulated illicit flight was heading out of the United States to Mexico.
“We have at least two individuals on a watch list, with cash and weapons destined for Merida, Mexico,” the Transportation Security Administration representative at North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command said on the call. “Aircraft is currently south of Corpus Christi, 10 miles heading south.”
In the command center, communications in English and Spanish wafted through the air, as U.S. officials and members of the Mexican Air Force tracked the movement of the illicit flight.
The U.S. government monitored the flight over the skies of Texas before handing off the tracking to Mexico as the flight entered Mexican airspace. In the afternoon, the same plane headed back from Mexico to the United States, this time with Mexico monitoring the flight and then handing off the tracking to the United States.
The live-fly event was part of Amalgam Eagle 16, a tactical exercise between the U.S. and Mexico aimed at strengthening information sharing and response cooperation for real-life scenarios, NORAD and NORTHCOM officials said.
Cooperation critical in complex exercise
Participants were in federal agency locations in the U.S. and in command centers here and in Mexico City. U.S. agency participants included U.S. Customs and Border Protection, TSA and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The simulated real-world scenario was complex and involved many moving parts, explained Joseph Bonnet, the director of joint training and exercises for NORAD and NORTHCOM.
“Amalgam Eagle is important because it is a mechanism to build trust and mutual confidence for the United States and Mexico,” he said.
“It also has served to improve our partner’s capacity and capabilities and broaden their participation across their interagency and whole of government,” Bonnet said. “That makes us all stronger.”
The exercise highlighted the importance of interagency cooperation, intelligence sharing and coordination with partners in the defense of the homeland, Bonnet said. Mexico is an important partner in that mission, as is Canada, he noted.
Bonnet said the Amalgam Eagle exercise, now in its third year, has grown each time, with Mexico taking responsibility for about half of the exercise this year.
A NORAD and NORTHCOM official pointed out how interoperability of communications systems was key in the exercise, allowing the U.S. and Mexico to communicate in two languages.
Those systems are vital in exercises like this and in real-world scenarios, as those programs can be applied in a number of languages to allow for communications with other international partners, the official said.
Protecting the homeland
The exercise provided valuable experience in working with partners both in the U.S and in Mexico, said Air Force Lt. Col. Chris Power, the deputy division chief of NORAD operations support.
“Mexico shares a border with the U.S., a very critical border, so it is important to us to keep up good relations with our partners to the south,” Power said.
He pointed out that Mexico used some new communication tools for the first time during this exercise. It was a great opportunity to practice information sharing, he said.
“Personally, it is good to see that our Mexican partners are just as passionate about defending the homelands as we are, as well as our partner to the north in Canada,” he said.