In March, a journalist from Brazilian military magazine Tecnologia & Defesa, one of the country’s most prestigious publications, took part in the Senior Editor’s Conference organized by Díalogo magazine at the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). Journalist Kaiser Konrad, who specializes in defense topics, took advantage of the opportunity to interview General Douglas Fraser, Commander, SOUTHCOM. During almost one hour in his sunny office in Miami, Florida, Gral. Fraser discussed the relationship between the Brazilian and U.S. armed forces, Brazil’s role in the fight against Transnational Organized Crime, the use of unmanned aerial aircraft for military missions and the possibility of having the South American giant choose Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet for its Air Force, among other topics. Kaiser Konrad captured that conversation into a piece that Tecnología & Defesa highlighted in its latest edition. Diálogo reproduced it below.
Q.: Could you elaborate on the cooperation that USSOUTHCOM has with the Brazilian Armed Forces and how this can be improved? Regarding the joint operations and exercises performed between our Armed Forces, what is the importance of this integration?
A.: We have very close and enduring relationships with the Brazilian Armed Forces today. We routinely conduct exercises with one another. In fact, last year Brazil hosted part of “Peacekeeping Operations – America,” an annual exercise we conduct with many of our partners around South and Central America, and the Caribbean. Brazil hosted this exercise. And this is an exercise that brings together those countries that contribute to peace keeping operations. And, it’s a way that they can coordinate and prepare for their missions for peacekeeping operations wherever they support those operations by the United Nations. We have an exercise called UNITAS, which is the longest running maritime multilateral exercise in the world. It’s been held for over 50 years, and Brazil hosted this exercise last year as well. And, we have very good cooperation again as we work with our respective navies. CRUZEX, a Brazilian exercise, as you know better than I do, that the U.S. participated with F-16s and also KC-35s last year as well. So, we are not only supporting U.S.-sponsored exercises, we are supporting Brazilian exercises as well. The Brazilian Navy also supports our diesel-electric submarine program with the U.S. Navy. This helps us work with submarines that we don’t have in the U.S. Navy. And, as you look beyond exercise programs, you look at the mission to support the detection and monitoring of illicit trafficking as it moves through the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Brazil is also supporting those activities by coordinating ships that are in the eastern part of the confluence of the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. This is an area where we don’t have a lot of ships. We see a lot of great exercises and we are always looking for more opportunities. Allow me to add that Brazil’s Air Force has also participated in our exercise called “Red Flag.” They flew to Las Vegas and participated in this training exercise. I see great opportunities already and we will continue to pursue more in the future.
Q: Brazil is slowly becoming the natural regional leader. What is the importance of having our countries follow common goals in the field of Hemispheric Defense, especially on the safety of the South Atlantic, which is a strategic zone for the 21st Century?
A: I’ll expand. Look at the entire Atlantic Ocean. It is an important strategic region for both of our countries. There are a lot of commercial trade routes that use the South Atlantic. Brazil has a very good understanding of that maritime traffic today. But, as we watch the concerns with illicit trafficking, we are seeing more of that traffic going across the Atlantic from South America to Africa. We are also seeing some of it move from the Caribbean through the Atlantic into Europe. I think that together with our interest in the Northern Atlantic, Brazil’s interest in the Southern Atlantic and the fact that we trade with one another, and with Europe and Africa, coupled with the importance of sustaining security in the Atlantic is critical to both our countries and the entire Western Hemisphere. So, the way we conduct that regional and bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Brazil, but also internationally – for instance with the Dutch and the UK, there’s a lot of international interest in sustaining security in both parts of the Atlantic. From my standpoint, that is an area of increasing opportunities for cooperation between not only our navies, but our air forces, and others; as we look for mutual concerns for the security of the Atlantic.
Q: The F/A-18 “Super Hornet” by Boeing is being offered to the Brazilian Air Force modernization program. Our fighter aviation has been using U.S. made aircrafts for decades, and we can highlight the F-5, which after almost 30 years of operation was modernized and currently represents the top of the line of Brazilian Air Force aviation. In 2008, it showed its value during the Red Flag exercise held in the U.S. What are the benefits for the Brazilian Air Force, and for the integration of the future technological projects of the Brazilian defense industry, on choosing the Super Hornet and in continuing with the use of a U.S. aircraft? Since you have been following this subject closely, what is the magnitude of the U.S. offer from the strategic point of view of the relationships between both countries?
A: The F/A-18 is a very capable and combat-tested aircraft. From my point of view there is no better option for the Brazilian Air Force than the F/A-18. Also, I think the importance of Brazil choosing the F/A-18, is that with this purchase comes aircraft support, and it really helps us continue the relationship, and the training, and the awareness of how one another operates. And, as we found during our responses to the Haiti earthquake, the better we understand one another, the better we operate during a crisis. It’s a natural fit. As you mentioned earlier, the security of the South Atlantic, Brazil’s potential involvement in other crises in the future, all make a natural linkage when our systems support one another. From a commercial standpoint, Boeing is a global company, and they have a lot of business and technology connections around the world, so I see them as a “door opener” for Brazilian companies into a global network in a way that may not be open with other competitors. Brazil will get to decide that based on their merits and based on their needs. The transparency of our acquisition system and the training and support that comes with that is very well known as well. And, the U.S. has put together a very attractive technology transfer capability; however, not as much as Brazil has been asking for, but this is due to propriety and security issues. It’s the same kind of package we offer to other countries, there is no difference. Putting all those pieces together, I think it is a very good fit for Brazil and the U.S. because I think it will help enhance security.
Q: Since 2004, Brazil has been sending troops to and has commanded the military force in MINUSTAH. Since you have been following this work closely, especially during the earthquake in Haiti, can you evaluate the military participation of Brazil and the command of MINUSTAH?
A: Brazil’s role in MINUSTAH is critical to the success of the response on an international basis. I see MINUSTAH as the core that a lot of the international efforts rally around. MINUSTAH, under Brazil’s leadership, was the organization that sustained security within Haiti during a critical time and allowed all the other international support to flow in. We’ve talked frequently about the relationship between General Floriano Peixoto, the commander of MINUSTAH at the time, and General Ken Keen, who was my Deputy Commander at the time. The fact that they had trained with one another and were familiar with one another made a natural link. Brazil’s leadership, their example for other contributing countries in Latin America and across the world, has played an important role throughout MINUSTAH. They have helped with the support, coordination and speed of the response. They’ve helped with the rest of MINUSTAH to sustain a secure environment. They’ve helped support the growth of the Haitian National Police. So I have nothing but complimentary things to say about Brazil’s role in supporting the UN, MINUSTAH and the U.S. armed forces as we came in to support that relief effort. That doesn’t end with the response effort. We still have a very close relationship with MINUSTAH, we still work on an annual basis with them and the government of Haiti to discuss our plans in case there is another disaster that impacts Haiti in the future. That planning is still coordinated very, very deliberately so our relations continue to be very, very close. Also, I would like to continue to say that I have great admiration for General Floriano Peixoto and I consider him a personal friend.
Q: Is there the possibility of creating a kind of JIATF-S (Joint Interagency Task Force-South in Key West) in the region (Southern Cone)? What is the purpose and the importance of this force?
A: From a U.S. perspective, JIATF-S has been a very successful organization. It focuses on a very specific part of this mission with a lot of other coordination. They are only responsible for the detection and monitoring of maritime illicit trafficking, not for any of this activity on land. So, they work as an interagency with U.S. law enforcement, U.S. intelligence organizations and U.S. military, with liaisons from 13 different nations, to include both law enforcement as well as military. They would not be able to carry out their mission if it was not for each of these organizations contributing to its success. The intelligence information comes from law enforcement organizations determining the vessels and aircraft to monitor. After that, the information is passed to a group and they then assign capability to monitor that traffic until it gets to a location where a ship or a host nation can intercept that vessel, stop it, and retain individuals for prosecution. Each interception is done by a military vessel with a law enforcement authority on board. This is because the military does not have the lawful capability to stop and arrest. The only way that all those pieces can be put together is through a joint interagency task force. I think this model can work beyond the U.S. but, it will be very complex. As you know, [in] working within government structures there’s a lot of authorities and coordination that must occur. My understanding is that Brazil is looking at establishing a similar organization to JIATF-S to coordinate their activities within Brazil and that they intend to link with the JIATF-S model. I think that’s a good model and that’s probably the best way to start the formation of a regional JIATF because every government needs to be able to put those pieces together themselves. Once they have established that capacity, being able to link it to other organizations and potentially putting in or overseeing a JIATF would make sense. From our standpoint, JIATF-S has become a model for interagency operations within the U.S. government.
Q: South American countries, like Brazil, have been using unmanned aerial systems (UAVs) for Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) missions with the intent of identifying illicit activities, such as smuggling and drug trafficking. The counter insurgency airplane Super Tucano has been utilized by the Brazilian Air Force, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic for patrolling missions in their national airspace to intercept illegal flights of drug trafficking aircraft. Would you, as a combat pilot, be able to evaluate the importance of the use of these new technologies toward the fight against illicit activities in the region?
A: I think there is a role for UAVs for missions that require a lot of endurance. They have a very applicable role for ISR missions. I think there needs to be a deliberate place where we use them. Within missions, we have pursued opportunities to use UAVs. We have used an experimental UAV with a maritime search radar on it. We call it the Cassador program. We flew it in conjunction with the government of Panama, off the coast of Panama for a three-month period and found it had considerable utility to provide awareness of maritime traffic. The UAV itself and the information it provides is just one piece of an entire system. That piece provides support, but the information it receives must be delivered to an organization that can take advantage of the information and then direct forces to respond to the information. There’s a benefit from this aspect. As you look at working with UAVs in jungles, for example, they are pretty good for seeing activity on rivers but not for seeing through jungles. So, the U.S. is working on developing one that can have fully penetrating capability that allows us to see inside the jungle canopy. There are opportunities for the UAV. I think it plays an important role in supporting counter illicit trafficking.
Q: Because Brazil has borders with almost all of the South American countries and its largest territory, do you believe it can be a regional leader in the war on transnational crime?
A: Brazil has to be a leader just because of its geographic proximity and size. Also, the potential impact of trafficking in Brazil, plus the relationships and agreements Brazil makes with its neighbors and other regional organizations will be critical. I see Brazil as the natural leader. It will have an interest in all illicit activity because of the potential of it moving through Brazil. We also talked earlier about the Atlantic, so there’s a natural connection with Brazil. We have a very good relationship with Brazil. We have common security interests. A secure, stable Western Hemisphere is in both of our country’s interests. I believe [that] through Brazil’s leadership, and in working with the U.S., this is a natural way to strengthen two key and capable countries. It’s critical and very important to the future that we strengthen our relationships.
Q: The Super Tucano aircraft currently has been used by many Air Forces including Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Colombia and the Dominican Republic for surveillance and border protection to intercept narcotrafficking aircraft. You are a fighter pilot, what is your evaluation about the use of this specific aircraft for this mission? Did you fly the Super Tucano? Are you able to talk about this experience and what you think about the aircraft?
A: The Super Tucano has proven itself an excellent multi-role, light air support aircraft. It has been successfully used by Colombia against narcoterrorist groups like the FARC and by the Dominican Republic to significantly reduce illicit air tracks entering Dominican airspace.
Embraer has also helped our two countries build important and mutually-beneficial connections. Two thirds of Embraer’s products come to the U.S. and two thirds of the inputs for Embraer products come from the U.S. Those facts speak loudly of Brazil’s growing contributions to technology cooperation in our hemisphere. It is one of the areas of cooperation we hope to deepen with Brazil as we work to strengthen our partnership further in the coming years. I had an opportunity to fly in the Super Tucano in December and was impressed. I found the Super Tucano to be a nimble, strong, responsive, very maneuverable fighter with refined, well designed controls and displays. I easily adapted to its feel and the ease with which it flies. Although I didn’t get the chance to fly tactical maneuvers with the Super Tucano, I was very impressed.
Q: With respect to the narcotrafficking, what are the measures that the region needs to become effective in a better fight against it? What is the importance of Brazil in this?
A: To be successful against illicit trafficking we’ll need to apply constant national and international pressure across the Hemisphere on transnational criminal organizations, coordinate our efforts and programs to disrupt their operations, and support holistic efforts that address the root causes that allow these organizations to thrive. It will require more than just military support to law enforcement. It will require whole-of-government approaches that emphasize building resilient communities, enhancing socio-economic opportunities, and enhancing the civilian capacity and presence of the State. Our collective efforts will require long-term commitments. Brazil is already a regional leader in countering transnational organized crime. For example, Brazil played a pivotal role in facilitating improved trilateral counterdrug efforts with Bolivia and the U.S. Its extensive military and interagency capacity-building engagement with the U.S. and the region is demonstrative of the country’s steadfast commitment to working with the international community to counter Transnational Organized Crime (TOC).
*Kaiser Konrad is a Brazilian journalist specializing in defense topics and an independent collaborator of Diálogo magazine.