Brazilian Army Aviation in the Amazon
By Dialogo January 01, 2012
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
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
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.
Congratulations Cap. Spindola