U.S. Southern Command has a plan to help partner nations in South America better maintain equipment they’ve bought from the U.S. through either the foreign military sales or excess defense articles programs.
As part of its Theater Maintenance Partnership Initiative, or TMPI, Southcom will work with South American partner and allied nations to develop maintenance expertise, which runs the gamut from equipment-level maintenance all the way to life-cycle management, said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Gabriel Christianson, multinational logistics officer at U.S. Southern Command.
“We are looking to provide a spectrum of support and engagement for our partners and allies,” Christianson said. “This is more than just simple maintenance training on end items, although that is a tangible, very important aspect of the program.”
At the tactical level where maintainers actually put wrenches to hardware, Christianson said Southcom will work with host and attending countries to both educate and enable. But the aim of TMPI goes further than that.
For more senior military and civilian leaders, a multinational logistics officer’s course is expected to provide, among other things, an understanding of the six functions of logistics, NATO codification, lifecycle management and planning at the operational and strategic levels, Christianson said.
“At the strategic level, we will look to support our partners with logistics professionals … to advise the sustainment professionals within our partner and ally force components, joint commands, and ministry of defense offices to achieve their readiness goals,” Christianson said, adding that courses will be available in multiple languages.
The TMPI concept, Christianson said, was developed after partners and allies in Southcom expressed concerns regarding the maintenance challenges they have with their own equipment.
Last week, Southcom Commander Army Gen. Laura Richardson spoke with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., where she discussed development of the TMPI and its goals.
Richardson said partner nations in South America together operate more than 50 C-130 Hercules aircraft, a cargo plane that’s been in operation in the United States and other nations since the mid-1950s.
Not all those C-130 aircraft in Southcom’s area of responsibility are maintained to the same standard, however. Because of that, missions that might have happened in Southcom have not happened the way partner nations would have liked, Richardson said.
“[During] the Haiti earthquake a couple of years ago, in 2021, there was some countries that wanted to participate in that recovery effort but couldn’t get there,” she said. “And we weren’t able to fly them … but they had forces on the ground. They were ready. They had the equipment. They were ready to go, and they couldn’t get there.”
Through TMPI, aircraft owned by partner nations in the region could all be ready to fly and could all meet modern standards for interoperability — meaning that if any mission from any nation required airlift, anybody could contribute or participate.
“This fits right in line with … how do we not just have individual countries doing internal things, but how do you bring that forward for the betterment of the hemisphere and partner nations working together,” Richardson said.
Christianson said that TMPI’s focus will include more than just aircraft like the C-130, however.
“It will not be only the large items like C-130s, but those end items in all domains that we want to ensure remain a prime asset for our partners to utilize,” Christianson said. “If a truck isn’t running, they can’t get to the field. And if it is a U.S. truck, we want to support their efforts to ensure strong maintenance readiness. This goes for boats, helicopters, radios — whatever they have acquired and have a desire to engage with us on. We want this to be a true partnership where we share requirements and provide solutions for the full spectrum of defense articles, from education to depot-level repair in some cases.”
The TMPI is expected to have nine “centers of excellence” to help maintainers and leaders in partner nations develop the skills needed to keep equipment they are responsible for operating and ready to participate in missions across Southcom’s area of responsibility. Those centers of excellence will be hosted by partner nations in Southcom.
Already, Richardson said, three locations for those centers of excellence have been selected. In Columbia, there will be both an aviation maintenance and electronic maintenance center of excellence. Meanwhile, Jamaica’s Caribbean Military Academy will host a multi-domain center of excellence that involves maintenance of not just aircraft, but ground equipment and naval vessels, as well.
“Jamaica [has] a well-respected defense capability in the Jamaican Defence Force and an excellent military school that trains the entire spectrum of their forces from initial entry to officers,” Christianson said. “We would like to collaborate with the Caribbean Military Academy in Jamaica over the next several years to invest in facilities and materials to allow them to further their offerings in maintenance of articles in air, sea, and land.”
The Colombians, Christianson said, have a center in Tolemaida — just outside the capital city of Bogota — that already trains pilots from multiple nations and also trains some maintainers for the region. He said Southcom would like for the Colombians to expand the capacity of the facility.
“We would like to move their goals a little further down the field and give some additional focus to the production of maintainers but also support their expansion of the Tolemaida depot-level repair facility from strictly a national capability to an organization that has expanded throughput sufficient to support other partners and allies in the region and with expanded capabilities, as well,” he said.
Southcom is also working with the Colombians to host a multinational course for logistics officers.
“The multinational course will do for the leaders of tomorrow what the centers of excellence will do for the young solder, sailor or airman: arm them with the education and ideas that will support the complex systems of the future, while building relationships for our western hemisphere family of ally and partner nations,” Christianson said.
In addition to facilities in Colombia and Jamaica, Christianson said other nations in Southcom have also expressed interest in hosting maintenance training centers of excellence. The remaining centers of excellence will be rolled out during fiscal year 2026 and 2027.
“Maintenance is hard for the U.S. military,” Richardson said. “And if it’s hard for us, I know it’s hard for everybody else.”
Fortunately, she said, there’s a lot of competence in Southcom partner nation militaries, and it’s expected that TMPI will bring the best of what those nations have to offer to help every partner nation inside Southcom up their maintenance game.
“Being a helicopter pilot, I know what it means to keep all your aircraft when you’re in combat,” she said. “You want as many that can fly in the air and [are] not broke on the ground. … The countries are excited about this. Really excited. It’ll touch on aviation maintenance, radio maintenance, vehicles, all of it. And I think it can really help in the hemisphere with our countries.”