An integrated Air Unit is expected to be introduced in the country’s national security apparatus soon.
This was revealed by Minister of National Security Stuart Young who was responding to questions posed by Guardian Media Limited about the state of the National Air Guard.
The minister said it was no secret that the Cabinet took a decision in 2017 that it could no longer afford the $200 million bill attached to the AugustaWestland helicopters purchased by the People's Partnership administration.
"The cost of maintenance and the cost of the use of these helicopters had become too much and the Treasury could no longer afford it and we took a decision to ground these helicopters."
The minister said the decision resulted in a deficit in the system, but they have been working to address the gaps.
He said he has been in talks with the Chief of Defence Staff, the Commissioner of Police, and the Director of the Strategic Services Agencies to find the best option to ensure security isn’t compromised but that they also get value for taxpayers.
"I intend to go to Cabinet very shortly to ask for the approval of helicopters for an air unit that will be manned predominantly by the Air Guard."
Young added that the assets will be available to various arms of the National Security apparatus. "...If the Defence Force needs to use it, they can, if police need to use the assets, they can use it, if other operations need to use it, they can use it. The assets will be based in Cumuto, that is the thinking right now. But it will be assets that all three arms of National Security can tap into. That will be the best value for money for Trinidad and Tobago".
Young said that the resignations from the Air Guard were not a surprise, because the number of assets has dwindled.
"The pilots are going to move on, they're not going to stay and twiddle thumbs, they have licensing requirements etc, so it’s no surprise helicopter pilots are leaving."
He is assuring the population that the air surveillance isn’t comprised, "This is not a panic situation, the Air Guard is not completely depleted."
He revealed that the Prime Minister has been in communication with ally countries seeking assistance in the matter.