Brazilian Army Aviation in the Amazon
In May 2004, a plane crash killed 33 people in the northwest Brazilian city of Manaus. A surveillance helicopter immediately went to the location. The crew, part of the 4th Army Aviation Battalion, used night-vision goggles to recover the bodies in what would be the first search and rescue mission using this type of equipment in South America.
The 4th Army Aviation Battalion (BAvEx) is headquartered alongside Manaus Air Base, in an area of uneven terrain where the first suspension hangar in Brazil was built. It is the only Brazilian Army helicopter unit in the Amazon and covers nearly half the national territory. It has a roster of 300 military personnel, of whom 35 are pilots, and it reports directly to the Amazon Military Command (CMA, for its Portuguese acronym).
The CMA was created in 1991 to accommodate the growing geopolitical significance of the Amazon region. That year, a helicopter force from what was then the Army Aviation Brigade arrived from Taubate, São Paulo, to participate in a secret military operation in the region of Tabatinga, in the state of Amazonas. The Brazilian military action was led by Special Forces with support from Army Aviation. Guerrillas belonging to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the area had attacked a Brazilian Army river detachment along the Traira River, killing service members and stealing their weapons.
BAvEx participates actively in international humanitarian operations, such as the rescue of FARC hostages in Colombian territory. Its aircraft fly above the immense forest in complete safety and with an elevated tempo of operations, conducting all air mobility operations within the jurisdiction of the CMA, in addition to carrying out a variety of missions in support of governmental agencies, such as the Brazilian Environmental Institute, the Indigenous National Foundation, the Federal Police and others, never losing sight of the main focus of their mission, which is to provide tactical and strategic air mobility to the CMA. The Missions
The 4th BAvEx is equipped with 11 helicopters: four HM-2 Black Hawks (Sikorsky S-70A), three HM-1 Panthers (Eurocopter AS-365), and four HM-3 Cougars (Eurocopter AS-532 UE). Air mobility in the Amazon jungle is categorized in terms of two operational doctrines for military force: Gamma, for resistance combat, and Alpha, for conventional combat. Within these two doctrines, a series of specific missions may be carried out and classified as follows:
Combat support missions: Command and control and artillery spotting. Missions such as search and rescue, reconnaissance, security, incursion, infiltration and extraction with air mobility are necessary in the jungle environment.
Logistical support missions: Supplying bases, detachments and special border squads; dropping paratroopers and Special Forces; providing medical evacuation and transport by air.
For the 4th BAvEx, all missions are real. This is the reason for its crews’ high level of operational readiness. The helicopters, equipped with MAG 7.62 mm lateral machine guns, can get to any point along the Brazilian border in the CMA area within 15 hours of receiving a mission.
Since the forest is too vast for the flight autonomy of any helicopter available in the market today, field fuel tanks, called “plots,” are transported for each deployment by the battalion and stored in safe areas so the aircraft can land, refuel and return to combat.
The weather conditions in the Amazon are extreme, and they can change suddenly. Since the distances are very large, and the flights are long, a pilot who takes off in favorable weather may encounter a radical change along the way.
Military Operations along the BordeR
In Brazil, the Armed Forces may exercise police powers throughout the border region. This area extends 150 kilometers from the border, within which military personnel may perform random stops and searches of vehicles, boats and people suspected of illicit activities, such as international drug trafficking and smuggling arms and goods. In the case of the Amazon region, with its very long border, support from Army Aviation aircraft is essential to surveillance, transportation and logistical support activities, whether conducted by military personnel or by teams from the Federal Police and the government agencies that work in the region.
Recently, the first edition of Operation Ágata was conducted in the region. The operation was initiated by the Brazilian Ministry of Defense as an integral part of the Strategic Border Plan launched by President Dilma Rousseff on June 8, 2011. Of the country’s 16,000 kilometers of border, 9,500 are irrigated by rivers that originate in neighboring countries and flow downstream into the Brazilian national territory, serving as routes for organized-crime activities. To confront this problem, the Defense and Justice ministries defined 34 vulnerable points that will be covered by the Armed Forces in future editions of the operation.