Enrique Soto Cano Air Force Base
Joint Task Force Bravo (JTF-Bravo), a component of the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom),
was established in 1983 under the name Joint Task Force 11, and was given its
current name in August 1984. It is stationed at the Enrique Soto Cano
semi-permanent air base, a Honduran-owned facility built in 1982 near
Comayagua, Honduras. Soto Cano is also home to the Honduran Air Force Academy.
The joint task force was originally established to support U.S. efforts on
behalf of Central American militaries and, according to the task force’s web
page, to “deter Nicaraguan aggression” during the region's civil wars of the
1980s. At its 1980s peak, over 2,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed at
Today, JTF-Bravo has about 500 troops present at any given time, nearly all of
them there temporarily on short rotations.2
With the region at peace, Southcom describes JTF-Bravo's current mission as
"to enhance cooperative regional security through forward presence and
peacetime engagement operations."3
Specific activities include
exercises, humanitarian and civic assistance (HCA)
projects, disaster relief, and support for counter-drug operations. JTF-Bravo,
a Southcom document adds, also assists Central American armed forces in
"restructuring their militaries to fit changing security requirements."4
In late 1998 and early 1999, JTF Bravo played a central role in U.S. military
efforts to help Central America recover from Hurricane Mitch. Personnel
stationed at Soto Cano carried out numerous search and rescue operations in
the storm’s immediate aftermath, while the base later served as a hub for U.S.
military HCA infrastructure-rebuilding projects.
JTF-Bravo itself is divided into four functional components. Army Forces (ARFOR)
provides administrative, command and control, and logistical support. ARFOR
supports both the joint task force and many of the dozens of Deployments for
Training (DFTs) –
overseas visits to train U.S. or foreign personnel – that take place in the
region each year. A Joint Security Force (JSF) made up of twenty airmen and
thirty-three soldiers guards the task force and carries out law enforcement
tasks. Air Force Forces (ARFOR) maintains the airfield, carries out air
traffic control duties, and provides command and control support, among other
duties. A Medical Element (MEDEL) provides emergency and limited routine
health care for U.S. personnel, and carries out occasional Medical Readiness
Training Exercises (MEDRETES) throughout Honduras and the rest of Central
In 1995, JTF-Bravo underwent a review by Congress's General Accounting Office
(GAO) to determine its post-cold war security relevance. The GAO determined
that Soto Cano provided useful and convenient support to some U.S. government
activities, such as counter narcotics, but was no longer critical to such
activities or U.S. policy objectives in the region, such as economic growth
and democratic reform.6
With the exit of U.S. bases from Panama by the end of 1999, Soto Cano is the
U.S. military's only usable airfield on the Latin American mainland (with the
partial exception of counter-drug “Forward
Operating Locations” at Manta, Ecuador and Comalapa, El Salvador). As a
result, the Defense Department argues that Soto Cano, which is likely to play
a greater anti-drug role, is highly relevant to its future activities.
With the departure of the U.S. Army’s 228th Aviation Battalion from
Fort Kobbe, Panama,
many aviation assets of U.S. Army South (USARSO), Southcom’s army component,
were moved to Soto Cano. These include a command and control element, CH-47
“Chinook” helicopters, and UH-60 “Blackhawk” and “Medevac” helicopters.7
The Honduran Constitution does not permit a permanent foreign presence in
Honduras. A "handshake" agreement between the United States and Honduras
allows JTF-Bravo to remain in Honduras on a "semi-permanent" basis. This
agreement, an annex to the 1954 military assistance agreement between the
United States and Honduras, can be abrogated with little notice.
Although the base was downsized
and reorganized in 1995, little information is available regarding current
costs and levels of equipment used to maintain the base. Prior to the 1995
reorganization, the GAO reported that the total cost of operating and
maintaining Soto Cano Air Force Base was over $38 million (see table). This
cost was shouldered primarily by the Department of Defense, through operation
and maintenance funds.8
During the 1995
review, the U.S. General Accounting Office predicted that Defense Department
resources associated with base operations and maintenance (i.e., human,
financial, supplies and equipment, and contracts and fees) could be eliminated
and costs would either decrease or be redistributed to other agencies. The
GAO's cost estimates for 1994 were the most recent figures this study has
uncovered. A subsequent GAO report released at the end of fiscal year 1995
found that "current data on the cost of the U.S. presence is not available."9
Costs to Operate and Maintain U.S. Military Presence at Soto Cano Base, 1994
(Thousands of U.S. dollars)
Army Flying Hours Program
Per Diem and Transport
Joint Task Force Bravo web page <http://www.ussouthcom.com/southcom/jtfbravo/Index.htm>.
United States Southern Command, Profile of
the U.S. Southern Command, October 1997, United States Southern Command
Headquarters, April 1998 <http://www.ussouthcom.com/southcom/graphics/profile.htm>.
Profile of the U.S. Southern Command.
Profile of the U.S. Southern Command.
Joint Task Force Bravo web
United States, General Accounting Office,
Honduras: Continuing U.S. Military Presence at Soto Cano Base Is Not Critical,
document number NSIAD-95-39, (Washington: GAO, February 8, 1995): 12 <http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/useftp.cgi?IPaddress=waisback.access.gpo.gov&filename=ns95039.txt&directory=/diskb/wais/data/gao>
Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format <http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/useftp.cgi?IPaddress=waisback.access.gpo.gov&filename=ns95039.pdf&directory=/diskb/wais/data/gao>.
Gen. Charles E. Wilhelm, commander in chief, U.S. Southern Command, Statement
before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee on the Western
Hemisphere, Peace Corps, Narcotics and Terrorism, June 22, 1999.
United States Southern
Command, Post-99 Theater Architecture: The Way Ahead, slideshow document,
October 28, 1998.
General Accounting Office, Continuing U.S. Military Presence 12.
United States, General Accounting Office, 1996 DOD Budget: Potential
Reductions to Operation and Maintenance Program, document number
NSIAD-95-200BR, (Washington: GAO, September 1995): 19 <http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/useftp.cgi?IPaddress=wais.access.gpo.gov&filename=ns95200b.txt&directory=/diskb/wais/data/gao>
Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) format <http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/useftp.cgi?IPaddress=wais.access.gpo.gov&filename=ns95200b.pdf&directory=/diskb/wais/data/gao>.