Brazilian Air Force Enhances Mission Planning Capacity
By Andréa Barretto/Diálogo July 25, 2018
FAB’s latest aircraft, including H-36 Caracal helicopters and A-29 Super Tucano fighters, will feature the Aerial Mission Planning software.
The Brazilian Air Force (FAB, in Portuguese) keeps up with technological advances with the Aerial Mission Planning (PMA II, in Portuguese) software to plan aerial operations. FAB developed PMA II through the Department of Defense’s Institute for Advanced Studies (IEAv, in Portuguese).
“Of course we can still operate without PMA II. However, its operational impact is significant, as it improves the performance of aerial missions, saves resources, and refines operational instruction of combat crews, among other benefits,” said FAB Colonel Lester de Abreu Faria, commandant of IEAv.
With PMA II, pilots can design aerial scenarios based on the needs of a mission to allow commanders to plan and make decisions. All FAB’s aerial and anti-aircraft defense units use PMA II for routine operations, exercises, and joint operations, Col. Lester said. With the tool, pilots can look at several aircraft flight plans at once to check for conflicts. “The Research and Flight Test Institute, FAB’s Smoke Squadron, and the Aeronautics Specialist School also use the software,” the officer added.
In addition to planning, PMA II allows for detailed analysis of completed aerial missions. Before the software’s creation, post-flight analysis relied on memorized information from each pilot on exercises performed and operational developments.
Installed on desktop computers, PMA II enables officers to carry out mission planning and analysis on land. While the software is not a resource aboard the aircraft, part of FAB’s most modern fleet will integrate the software within the aircraft’s systems. Some of the planning achieved through PMA II will be transferable to the aircraft, allowing pilots to consult the data during flights.
The software has already been integrated into the A-29 Super Tucano, A-1M light attack fighters, and F-5M Tiger aircraft. By 2019, H-36 Caracal helicopters will also feature PMA II. FAB, the Brazilian Navy, and the Brazilian Army purchased the rotary-wing aircraft through the H-XBR program that equipped the Armed Forces with 50 state-of-the-art helicopters—the program of the Ministry of Defense acquires helicopters and technology transfers. Its objective is to train the Brazilian aerospace industry in the technology required to develop and manufacture helicopters.
H-XBR included the integration of PMA II into the systems of the new helicopters, which an IEAv team will carry out. “Other FAB acquisitions, such as the KC-390 aircraft, are also scheduled for integration with PMA II, whose manufacturers will carry out,” Col. Lester said.
The H-36 Caracal, a high-tech rotary-wing aircraft, is the only aerial asset of FAB capable of in-flight refueling. FAB will be able to schedule and include the task in the mission plan created with PMA II. The pilot carries out air-to-air refueling by activating a probe on the nose of the helicopter that extends to reach the tank of the aircraft. The in-flight refueling allows for longer flight range and reduces the need to return to base.
“This feature, among others, puts the H-36 [Caracal] at the service of our people at any time during a public disaster or plane crash. As such, we have a greater response capability,” said FAB Lieutenant Colonel Eduardo Barrios, commander of the Puma Squadron. The unit that specializes in search and rescue operations was among the first to receive the H-36 Caracal helicopters in 2015.
An IEAv team developed PMA II between 2008 and 2016. Col. Lester credited the success of PMA II to the alignment of operational and technical knowledge between IEAv researchers and Air Force officers, as well as the close contact kept with software end-users. The team that developed PMA II works on other IEAv’s projects, but remains available for maintenance and support of the software.
Among the projects underway at the institute, Col. Lester highlighted a tool that would enable the simulation of operational scenarios of interest to FAB. “This tool/simulated environment will include a series of tools to support decision making and artificial intelligence to enhance results, preparation, and the use of force as a whole,” he said. The technology is still in the early stages, yet the officer believes in its operational potential for FAB, just like with PMA II.