Brazilian Air Force E-99 Planes Undergo Modernization
By Andréa Barretto/Diálogo May 04, 2017E-99 planes were used during Pope Francis’s visit to Brazil in 2013, and they were also employed in the 2014 World Cup, and the 2016 Olympic Games. Now they are in service in one of the largest air defense operations ever conducted by the Brazilian Air Force (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym), Operation Ostium. “These are extremely strategic planes for the FAB, because they enable us to extend our decision-making capability further. “In relative terms, it’s as though the E-99 were an advanced aerial CINDACTA,” Brigadier General Márcio Bruno Bonotto stated, comparing the plane’s surveillance capability with that of the Integrated Air Traffic Control and Air Defense Center (CINDACTA, per it’s Portuguese acronym), which are ground-based FAB units that monitor and control air traffic across Brazil. Brig. Gen. Bonotto is president of the Coordinating Committee of Combat Aircraft Program, which operates in the aeronautics re-engineering area, and is at the forefront of the fleet modernization process of five Early Air Warning and Control aircraft, called E-99s. He stated that the first of them to be withdrawn from operation is now at Embraer’s facilities. Embraer is the Brazilian company responsible for fulfilling the FAB’s modernization contract. In the city of Gavião Peixoto, in the interior of São Paulo state, the plane’s electronic warfare, command-and-control, electronic countermeasures, radar, and air defense systems are being upgraded. “The body on our E-99 planes is quite new, but the sensors wear out and become obsolete more rapidly due to technological advances,” Brig. Gen. Bonotto explained, discussing the reasons that justify the need to modernize the planes. It is projected that work on this first unit will be completed in early 2019, and that by 2021, all five planes will have their capabilities upgraded. Through this process, it is anticipated that the equipment can be used for two more decades. “When this kind of modernization is done, folks expect that it should be useful for 15 to 20 years, because it is a very large financial investment,” Brig. Gen. Bonotto asserted. The E-99 planes are flown by the Guardian Squadron, headquartered in Anápolis, in the state of Goiás, due to its strategic location. “From that city, it is possible to deploy rapidly to any point in Brazilian territory,” the FAB Public Affairs Office stated. Systems and capabilities When they began development in the 1990s, today’s E-99 planes were called R-99A. R-99s, then called R-99Bs, were also acquired in that era, according to information from FAB Public Affairs. Both models were commissioned to integrate the Amazon Surveillance System equipment set, a branch of a larger program, the Amazon Defense System, whose purpose was to defend and guarantee Brazil’s sovereignty over that region of the country. The first E-99 aircraft units were delivered to the FAB in 2002, and they initially focused their operations on the Amazon region, but the FAB later saw that they could be used in many other missions due to their high sky-scanning capacity. What distinguishes the E-99 model is its antenna attached to the upper part of the fuselage. This radar is important for overcoming the deficiencies of fixed radars, which often have blind spots due to a bulkhead that limits their view. “Radar is nothing more than an electronic eye. If something is covered up, people can’t see it. This plane increases our capacity to defend our airspace because it’s mobile; our personnel place the radar at the location and distance where it’s needed,” explained Brig. Gen. Bonotto. The radar on the E-99 currently has coverage of over 300 miles. By upgrading the equipment, its range capacity can be doubled, exceeding 600 miles. “This may vary according to the target’s profile and altitude. If the radar detects a fighter plane, what we see is a small image,” Brig. Gen. Bonotto stated. “But if it’s a larger plane, our personnel are able to identify it from a greater distance, because the object has a larger profile. For some target profiles, the radar will be capable of doubling its range with this upgrade.” The FAB’s five E-99 airplanes will also have their electronic warfare, command-and-control, and electronic countermeasure systems upgraded. “Electronic warfare systems are technologies that prevent another aircraft from interfering in our data reception,” explained FAB Public Affairs. Similarly, electronic countermeasure systems are capable of preventing an opponent from jeopardizing the progress of a mission. “For example, if my opponent interferes with my radar so that I can’t see what it’s showing, he is using electronic measures. I have to be able to block his action. That’s why we use what are called electronic countermeasures,” Brig. Gen. Bonotto clarified. Command-and-control systems are those that “cause the information to flow from the highest decision-making level down to the executor,” according to Brig. Gen. Bonotto. “Command and control is, in fact, the capacity to manage what is occurring and be able to make the correct decisions at the right time,” he concluded. Planning systems When it was signed in 2013, the modernization contract for these five E-99 units was estimated to be an investment of about $137 million. This figure included the acquisition of six mission-planning and analysis systems. This equipment enables step-by-step operational planning and the transmission of all that data to the aircraft’s systems. Additionally, it allows everything that happens during the flight to be logged for later review and analysis by the crew. E-99 airplanes come equipped with this capability, but now it will be improved and used in the service members’ training.