Argentina is bolstering vast stretches of its unprotected skies, nearly 15 years after the idea was first proposed.
BUENOS AIRES —Argentina is bolstering vast stretches of its unprotected skies, nearly 15 years after the idea was first proposed.
President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner recently announced the installation of 20 radars — as well as fighter jets and more than 200 specially trained personnel — to monitor and protect the country’s northern borders with Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia.
“In northeastern Argentina there are dozens of illegal flight paths, according to Air Force reports produced by pilots realizing exercises in the area,” said Roberto López, a lawyer and former advisor to the National Defense Commission of Argentina’s Chamber of Deputies.
These reports indicate that 358 illegal flights were detected during a training exercise several years back. This equates to roughly 120 aircraft per month carrying more than 50,000 kilograms of illegal merchandise.
The $1.8 billion rollout is part of larger national program devised in 2004, and has a dual purpose: to protect Argentine territory from illicit air traffic while strengthening technological development through the use of home-grown equipment.
The radars, including one three-dimensional defense radar, were produced by Invap, a company based in the southern Argentine city of Río Negro. Invap recently collaborated with NASA and other international partners to launch the SAC-D Aquarius satellite from California. This was the first production of a 3D radar in Argentina, and its home will be a mobile base at Santiago de Estero’s airport where it will be accompanied by a manned monitoring center and several Pucará fighter jets.
The plan is called North Shield (Escudo Norte), as it is focused on controlling aircraft entering and leaving Argentina’s northern frontiers with Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia. Besides Santiago de Estero — which will be the technological hub of the program — radars also will be installed in Resistencia (Chaco) and Posadas (Misiones). Existing radar detection systems are limited to aircraft terminals at Ezeiza International Airport in Buenos Aires as well as smaller airports in Córdoba, Mendoza, Mar del Plata and Paraná.
This is a cooperative venture between Argentina’s ministries of defense and interior, as well as the Armed Forces and security forces such as the National Gendarmerie and the Coast Guard. The northern rollout of radars will be managed by 60 officials from the Air Force and 180 from the Army.
It helps fill the void left earlier this year after Security Minister Nilda Garré ordered the National Gendarmerie — which had been protecting Argentina’s frontiers — to bring order to the crime-ridden suburbs south of Buenos Aires.
“While having new surveillance methods is a good thing, it’s naïve to think that by filling the border area with radars we’re going to be able to stop drug traffickers, who just as often travel over land and water,” said Fabián Calle, defense specialist and professor at Catholic and Torcauto Di Tella universities.
Argentina employs two types of radar: 2D and 3D. Two-dimensional radars offer speed and directional data, while 3D radars can also detect altitude, which makes them more useful for defense purposes, López said. The latter system also can determine if a given aircraft is friendly or not, regardless of whether its crew cooperates. López said about 11 percent of Argentina’s frontiers are monitored by 3D radars. In 2006, the government ordered more, but their production has been delayed due to irregularities in the contracting process.
After years of fits and starts, the radar installations are taking place under the umbrella of a 2004 decree signed by former President Nestor Kirchner. Known as the “National Aerospace Monitoring and Control System” (Sistema Nacional de Vigilancia y Control Aeroespacial), its purpose was to revive and update a 1996 bill approved by then-President Carlos Menem. That original National Radar Plan had a budget cap of $46.3 million and was officially put on hold in 2000 by Menem’s successor, President Fernando de la Rúa.
The radar system is part of Argentina’s counternarcotics and counterterrorism efforts.
“Given the increase in illegal flight activity worldwide and, more specifically at the regional level, relating to smuggling and the use of the air space by terrorists,” the law says, “it is essential to have radar systems and carry out effective aerospace control.”
The radars selected for the program are RASIT portable ground surveillance machines used since the 1980s to detect moving ground targets and low-altitude air targets. They are known for their ability to discriminate and classify radial velocity and sound.
Invap has modernized the RASIT, giving it considerably broader capacity, a user-friendly digital interface and real-time information to track a target within a digital map synched with Argentina’s Military Geographic Institute.
Besides the radars, a small unit of fighter jets will be deployed and readied to intercept suspicious flights.
Not only Argentina, but also all the countries that share a border with Argentina, should do the same, and especially Brazil, since they are experiencing drug trafficking because they do not have protection on the border.