Brazilian Air Force Commences Largest Enforcement Operation against Unauthorized Flights
By Andréa Barretto/Diálogo April 13, 2017The Brazilian Air Force (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym) launched Operation Ostium on March 24th, one of its longest and most comprehensive initiatives over the course of 2017. “Operation Ostium is daring. We are setting up a strip along the border where we will be focusing all of our resources. Our objective is clear: reduce the number of illicit goods coming in by air along a huge swath of the border to zero,” stated Lieutenant General Ricardo Cesar Mangrich, commander of the operation. In the initial phase of the operation, resources are concentrated in three cities: Campo Grande and Dourados, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul; and Cascavel, in the state of Paraná. In Campo Grande, the FAB has A-29 Super Tucano fighters, E-99 radar planes, as well as R-35A and RA-1 reconnaissance planes. The airports in Cascavel and Dourados have already been transformed into veritable air bases for Operation Ostium. The facilities that have been set up allow for the operation of AH-2 Sabre and H-60 Black Hawk combat helicopters, A-29 Super Tucano fighters, and RQ-450 unmanned aerial aircraft, known as drones. “These regions were selected according to operational needs for securing our airspace, based on strategic information about the flow of clandestine aircraft entering Brazil,” the FAB Public Affairs Office reported. Over the course of 2017, troops and equipment are due to be relocated to other regions of the country, their missions coordinated from the Aerospace Operations Command (COMAE, per its Portuguese acronym), which is located in Brasília. Patrolling from the sky FAB maintains a year-round, 24-hour air defense alert service. With Operation Ostium, the intention is to expand its capacity for detecting unidentified air traffic, and increase rapid response for aircraft interception. To meet the objective of stepping up security, especially against unauthorized low-altitude flights, the FAB installed mobile radars in addition to employing E-99 radar aircraft. The first towns to receive the radars were Chapecó, in the state of Santa Catarina, and Corumbá, in Mato Grosso do Sul. The city of Chapecó is located less than 500 kilometers from Paraguay, and approximately 136 kilometers from Argentina. Corumbá is situated in the Tri-Border region between Brazil, Paraguay, and Bolivia. According to information from the FAB Public Affairs Office, E-99 aircraft are already executing flights in various regions, pursuant to mission requirements. The E-99 Brazilian-made radar planes are known for the large antenna attached to their fuselage, which can trace small-size aircraft flying slowly at low altitudes. Additionally, their scanning capability spans more than 350 km around the plane. With that, the “eyes” of the E-99 are able to simultaneously visualize up to 300 targets in the air and on the ground. Military force in the air To increase their response capacity for potential air defense alerts, Operation Ostium relies mainly on the use of A-29 Super Tucano fighters and two helicopters, the H-60 Black Hawk and the AH-2 Sabre. The A-29 Super Tucano is a light attack fighter, developed by Brazil, and used by 13 foreign air forces, including the United States. This fighter reaches a speed of 600 km per hour, and can be equipped with machine guns, bombs, rockets, or missiles. AH-2 Sabre helicopters are also suited for interception missions, as they can fly at low altitudes and high speeds –320 km per hour–for up to three consecutive hours. To carry out operations under Ostium, the AH-2 Sabres are equipped with a 23 mm cannon with highly destructive firepower. These helicopters are even capable of launching rockets and missiles. In the event that an unidentified aircraft lands in an area unsuitable for airplanes, the ideal aircraft is the H-60 Black Hawk. This helicopter easily lands in different locations and transports troops trained in descending to the ground, while taking the necessary measures to deal with an unidentified crew. In Operation Ostium, the FAB is also making use of remotely piloted aircraft, with the intent of identifying clandestine runways and trafficking routes. “One of the main features of these systems is their autonomy and persistence; that is, their capacity to remain above an area for a long time, observing patterns and behaviors,” stated Lieutenant Colonel Sandro Bernardon, commander of the Hórus Squadron. “Our systems have the capacity to hover above a target for 10 to 30 hours.” Approach in stages Brazilian law sets forth a series of procedures that must be met in the event that suspicious aircraft is identified in the nation’s airspace. The sequence of events begins with the activation of pilots on standby at an air base. Once in flight, the pilots must identify the unknown aircraft from a distance and attempt to communicate with its crew. Next, FAB pilots relay the information they have obtained to the operations command. In Operation Ostium, COMAE will decide what the next steps are. They may ask the unidentified aircraft to change course or make a forced landing, in which case, FAB service members will take measures to identify the crew on the ground. If the detected unauthorized aircraft fails to obey air-defense orders, Brazilian Aeronautical Code states that a warning shot can be fired, which is not aimed at the aircraft. If after that, the aircraft remains noncompliant with national defense instructions, it is then considered a hostile aircraft. In that case, the unidentified aircraft is subject to what the law describes as a detention measure. “FAB aircraft armament will be activated. The shot will be aimed at forcing the hostile aircraft to land,” the FAB Public Affairs Office stated. To make the shot, an express authorization from the Air Force commander is required.