Central America is permanently vulnerable to natural disasters and other calamities that require prompt and efficient air deployment, often to areas lacking adequate infrastructure to handle any type of aircraft. Under these circumstances, the helicopter and short-take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft excel.
During EXPODEFENSA 2019, John Lopes, Lockheed Martin Business Development Director for Latin America, highlighted the performance the C-130 HERCULES, which has shown itself to be an effective and tireless workhorse in all sort of adverse circumstances. However, for all its virtuosity, the C-130 remains out of reach of many Central American nations. A pair of ex USAF C-130s were allotted to the Salvadoran Air Force as replacements for two C-123Ks in 1992 but were never delivered. Guatemala used three Fokker F27 FRIENDSHIPs after being unable to acquire C-130s from the US, and the G222 from Italy. Only the Honduran Air Force (FAH) operated up to five C-130s, the last one until about 2005. The good news is that the FAH is expected to receive a single C-130H from Brazil in 2020 as part of a swap with the Brazilian Air Force (FAB). The FAH will supply two Cessna C-208B, transferred recently from the US, in exchange for one C-130H, five UH-1H and spare parts. Ideally, each of the countries in the northern triangle of Central America (Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador), would operate the mighty HERCULES, but for now a replacement for the Arava IAI-201 with similar characteristics is more realistic and within reach.
In order to fulfill the requirement for a light STOL aircraft, the FAH recently acquired a pair of L-410, but one crashed, leaving the need for a replacement. The Guatemalan service (FAG), attempted recently to revive its Arava IAI-201 but found it economically prohibitive so, in the meantime, it operates two L-410s as well. The Salvadoran FAS acquired three IAI-202 in 2008, but only one remains operational. The FAS situation has now become critical. All BT-67 and other IAI-202 are gone, so it has a requirement for a minimum of four STOL aircraft, and a desire for six.
Frans Jurgens, Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky Communications Manager, indicated that the M28 would be an ideal machine to meet these Central America requirements. The M28 is a twin-engine STOL turboprop aircraft developed by PZL Mielec Company, now a business unit of Sikorsky Aircraft. Jurgens noted that there are a few examples readily available for delivery at a very attractive cost. John Lopes, during a separate conversation, agreed that the M28 would be an ideal machine to operate in Central America, and highlighted the capabilities of the small SKYTRUCK as a solution for the light tactical air transport requirement in the region. As an example, Ecuador replaced its last Arava with an M28: Lopes reminded us that the USAF is retiring its M28 (designated C-145A).
Indeed, Central American operators are familiar with the C-145A, thanks to exchanges and exercises hosted by US Special Forces in the region. On that note, Costa Rica is due to receive a couple of ex-USAF C-145A as part of a $30 million security assistance package, while the FAS was due to receive another pair, but the request/requirement has not materialized.
As the USAF intends to retire all its SKYTRUCKs, an ideal solution might be found in the transfer of one C-145A with the purchase of each M28, wrapping a logistical package and facilitating nationalization.