Jamaica Defence Force
By Wim Sonneveld
History The island of Bob Marley was inhabited by Arawak Indians prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494. The Spanish were displaced by the British who turned Jamaica into the most important of the British Caribbean slaving colonies. Within 100 years, virtually the whole island had been divided up into large plantations owned by absentee landlords and worked by forced labor imported from West Africa. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, Jamaica became relatively prosperous under orthodox colonial rule until the early 20th century when a spate of natural disasters, compounded by the depression of the 1930s, sent the economy into decline.
Since independence in 1962, the political arena has been dominated by the struggle between the right-wing Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) and the leftist People's National Party (PNP). The JLP held power throughout the 1960s, but in 1972 the PNP took over. The PNP socialist program was widely popular but the development of close relations with Cuba brought down the wrath of the US government. The Americans provided substantial backing for the rival JLP.
In 1989, Manley's PNP returned to power. By now, the PNP leadership had reoriented the party, dropping much of its previous radical agenda, effecting free-market economic policies and making great efforts to stay on good terms with the US. Elections in April 1993 confirmed its new leader Patterson in the post. The PNP has been in power ever since; it won the most recent poll in October 2002 somewhat against expectations and once again conducted in an atmosphere of intense violence and intimidation, especially in deprived urban areas. For the its government, the main priority is dealing with the economic situation.
The head of state is the British Monarch, represented by a Governor General who has nominal and rarely used powers.
Jamaica Defence Force
Jamaica's combined armed forces, the JDF, consist of a ground force supported by small air and coastal patrol contingents. The mission of the JDF is to defend the country against aggression and to maintain essential services and protect the civil population in the event of a disaster. The JDF is also responsible for coastal surveillance and air-sea rescue operations. In addition, the JDF is supporting counter-drug operations. Since early 1982, JDF Eradication Units have helped to destroy marijuana crops and illegal air strips. As in the other West Indian islands, the Prime Minister is the de facto head of the defense forces.
The JDF's predominant ground force element consists of the First Battalion and a support and service battalion. The First Battalion includes the Air Wing and Coast Guard, as well as a headquarters unit at Up Park Camp in Kingston, an engineering unit, and other supporting units. Once the sole operational element of the former Ministry of Defence, the JDF, together with the police, was placed under the Ministry of National Security and Justice in 1974. The prime minister commands the JDF through a major general.
Air Wing - We fly for All The Air Wing was formed in July 1963, one year after Jamaica gained it's independence. The Air Wing's headquarters is at Up Park Camp, where the wing's helicopter force is concentrated. The need for light aircraft resulted in the formation of a Reserve Air Squadron in July 1963. The first pilots were taken over from the Jamaica Flying Club and the first aircraft to be obtained were four U-17A Skywagons donated by the United States Government. A helicopter followed already in October of the same year: a Bell 47G helicopter was delivered and properly marked JDFH-1. A second Bell 47G was flown by JDF pilots from Texas in March 1964. A British Army Air Corps officer, the first officer to command the Air Wing, arrived in Jamaica in the same year and his main tasks were to train the helicopter pilots and organize the unit.
During the seventies the Air Wing grew to maturity, with more helicopters delivered, dramatically expanding the force's capabilities. The remainder of seven Bell 206 Jet Rangers and three Bell 212s served until the late nineties. The fixed wing element consisted of two Beeches, two DHC-6 Twin Otters, two Britten-Norman BN-2 Islanders and a various types of Cessnas during the seventies and eighties. The two surviving Skywagons were taken off strength in the mid-eighties. Only one Islander and one Cessna 210 remained in until the end of the first decade of the 3rd millennium, making the Air Wing primarily a helicopter force.
The Air Wing is equipped for ground force liaison, search and rescue, police cooperation, survey, and transport missions. The most frequent operational mission flown by the Air Wing however, is the drug eradication mission, coded Operation Buccaneer. A handful of UH-1H Hueys has served in this role although these have now been withdrawn from use. At the turn of the century the Bell 212s were replaced by an equal number of Bell 412EPs and the Bell 206 Jet Rangers by four Eurocopter AS355 Twin Squirrels with sophisticated surveillance equipment. In turn, the Ecureuils were replaced by four Bell 407s following serviceability problems. The main event in the last few years was the formation of the Jamaica Military Aviation School at Kingston Norman Manley IAP. Two Diamond 40s and two Bell 206s make up the aicraft of the school. Number 1 Flight is fixed wing and is based here as well, although its aircraft are no longer flown. The 2 and 3 Flights are utility and reconnaissance helicopter flights respectively. Both are operated out of the JDF's headquarters, Up Park Camp in Kingston.