COMDABRA: Ensuring Brazil’s National Sovereignty
By Dialogo September 04, 2013
The Brazilian Air Defense Command (COMDABRA, for its Portuguese acronym), is one of the most important commands in Brazil because it is responsible for national sovereignty. Diálogo spoke with Lieutenant General Carlos de Almeida Baptista Jr., head of the command, to discuss air space security, integration with partner nations’ air forces, unmanned aerial vehicles operations, and the 2013 multinational exercise CRUZEX.
Diálogo: What is the function of the Brazilian Air Defense Command and how is it structured?
Lieutenant General Carlos de Almeida Baptista Jr.: The COMDABRA, which is the only permanently active operational command of Brazil’s military defense structure, is responsible for Brazil’s defense against any type of aerospace threat. It is commanded by a general of the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), it has a joint structure – comprised of military members from the three branches of service – flexible enough to allow operations during crisis or conflict without interruption.
The internal structure is made up of a Joint Staff and by an Air Defense Operations Center (ADOC). The ADOC is responsible for supervising the activities at all four Military Operation Centers (MOC), which execute the Air Defense actions at each of its regions.
According to the guidelines, the COMDABRA has operational control of the Air and Anti-Aircraft Defense Units, while using four operation centers on national territory, in which all tactic controls are performed.
Based on the threat level, the Brazilian Aerospace Defense System, (SISDABRA) operates in different “States of Alert” which determine the level of readiness to be observed by the system, as well as the resources to be used. Such levels represent different situations that vary from a peaceful state to a major conflict.
Diálogo: Brazil has been protecting its borders with Super Tucano airplanes, preventing the aerial invasion of illegal aircraft. Which aviation units are involved, and how do you perform the operations and coordination of these interceptions?
Lt. Gen. Carlos Baptista Jr.: Although Brazil is located in a peaceful geographical area and has excellent relationships with all its neighbors, our multiple borders have been used for illegal drug trafficking, which requires firm actions from the Brazilian government.
Among these actions, I want to point out the use of aerial resources for detection, control, and interception, such as the AE&W/C E-99 airplanes, and interception aerial resources, such as helicopters and the Super Tucano airplanes which are part of a very efficient team.
Three out of four FAB squadrons that operate Super Tucano airplanes are located in Boa Vista, in Roraima state; Porto Velho, in Rondonia state; and Campo Grande, in Matto Grosso do Sul state, and they are permanently involved in this type of activity, achieving excellent results.
Although the COMDABRA could choose to use higher performance airplanes, experience shows that the Super Tucano is the best platform for this type of operation, mainly because it can fly at adequate speed, it can be easily deployed to aerodromes without any type of logistical support, even if the landing strips are not prepared, and it has a very low operating cost.
The Super Tucano airplane has been designed for counter-insurgency missions, close aerial support, and interception at low and medium speeds, with a proven record of success in these missions.
Diálogo: Brazil has been conducting coordination aerial defense exercises with air forces from neighboring nations. How have these exercises been conducted and what practical results have they achieved?
Lt. Gen. Carlos Baptista Jr.: For over 10 years COMDABRA has been performing aerial defense combined operations with all of Brazil’s neighboring countries.
The goal of these operations is to establish guidelines to identify and transfer information regarding unknown or suspicious cross-border traffic. They have served as a basis for the creation of the Bi-National Air Defense Standards, which determine procedures to be followed by the countries whenever it is not feasible to follow the guidelines of the aerial space law enforcement prior to when traffic crosses the border.
These procedures reduce the reaction time of the neighboring country, and also allow for the continuity of actions by the other country, contributing to the control of illegal activities.
These Bi-National Air Defense Standards are reassessed every other year and support the information exchange between each country’s Air Defense Operations Center, an important part of the battle against illegal activity.
Diálogo: The Air Force has been using Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations for Operation Agatha in the border areas and in the big cities, during the international events that Brazil hosted. How important is the use of UAVs and what were the lessons learned by the FAB after using these devices?
Lt. Gen. Carlos Baptista Jr.: The operation of these aircraft is still very new for the Brazilian Air Force. However, its use during the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) mission has been very relevant.
The possibility of employment for long periods of time, the risk reduction for the crew and operators, the low cost of operation and the possibility of maintaining situational awareness of the operational area are only some of their most important characteristics.
We have been studying its use to relay communications and serve as a data link relay to benefit the Aerospace Defense, monitoring incursion routes and low speed traffic for early warning.
Although many activities are under the responsibility of the public security agencies, the Radio-Controlled Aircrafts (RCA), as they are known in the country, have proved to be very important for the Command and Control actions during the large sporting and political events that Brazil is hosting this decade, because they enable awareness of the scenario in real time, helping with the decision-making process.
Finally, I would like to emphasize that the acquisition of the first RCA is part of the Brazilian strategic project to manufacture this type of product itself, nationally, for this type of resource, with many civil and military applications.
Diálogo: The FAB also performs a very important job for the country and other nations, on maritime patrol and search and rescue (SAR) missions within their area of responsibility in the South Atlantic. What resources are used and what is the relevance of these missions to ensure the security of the aircraft and vessels in the Atlantic region?
Lt. Gen. Carlos Baptista Jr.: As a result of international agreements, Brazil has a vast responsibility on SAR operations in the South Atlantic, which corresponds to 3.5 million ft sq. beyond its own territory.
This ability was proven in June 2009, during the search and rescue operations performed in the rubble of Air France flight #447, and it was performed, among others, by the R-99, P-95, C-130, P-3, and C-295 aircraft, the first two having been manufactured locally by EMBRAER.
Certainly, this capability exceeds the issue of available aerial resources, requiring surveillance and control capabilities of the entire area.
It is important to point out the Brazilian Airspace Control System, implemented and operated by the FAB for decades, and widely known for its safety, efficiency and reliability, made the country a worldwide point of reference regarding successful integrated operations of Air Traffic Defense and Control System resources.
Diálogo: The FAB is undergoing a program to update its fighter force. What changes will it bring to the Air Force capacities regarding the fulfillment of their duties to ensure protection and sovereignty of national airspace?
Lt. Gen. Carlos Baptista Jr.: Although Brazil has good relations with its neighboring countries, and our social demands are fair and typical of a developing country, we still need modern armed forces with enough dissuasive power.
In this regard, the FAB’s Modernization and Retrofit Program includes the update of some platforms, such as the F-5 and AMX aircraft, as well as the acquisition of fourth generation airplanes – the F-X2 Project –the initial allotment of 36 airplanes which seeks to reinstate the Brazilian combat capacity currently reduced to an adequate level.
The modernization of the F-5 and AMX aircraft has extended their operating life for few more years, as well as allowed for the integration of new missiles and mission equipment, essential elements in modern conflicts.
Regarding the F-X2 Project, and considering the deactivation of the Mirage 200 airplanes scheduled for December 2013, I anxiously await the president’s choice from among the F-18 Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, and the SAAB Gripen aircraft.
Such a highly anticipated decision will represent an important leap in the Brazilian air defense capacity.
Diálogo: In November of this year, at the Natal Air Base, Brazil will once again host exercise Southern Cross, gathering air forces from the entire region, including the United States. What are the expectations for this exercise and what type of operations will be conducted?
Lt. Gen. Carlos Baptista Jr.: Between November 4 and 15, once again, the north east region of Brazil will be the stage for the largest air war exercise in Latin America. The Southern Cross exercise, better known as “CRUZEX Flight 2013”, will gather over 90 aircraft from Brazil and eight more from other countries at the Air Bases of Natal and Recife.
The objective of the exercise is to train in modern air war strategies and tactics within the context of a coalition of countries. New air combat tactics will be tested and there will be an exchange of experiencesbetween the fighter units, transportation, refueling, and helicopter crews, as well as the members of the Special Forces.
In its seventh edition, CRUZEX will bring together over 2,000 men and women, including aviators, mechanics, special forces, and local and foreign support personnel, throughout the cities of Natal (Rio Grande do Norte), Recife (Pernambuco), and a small contingent in Caicó (Rio Grande do Norte).
The Natal Air Base will house combat aircraft such as the A-4AR (Argentina), F-16 (Chile, United States and Venezuela), IA-58 (Uruguay), A-37 (Uruguay and Colombia), and the A-29 Super Tucano (Brazil and Ecuador), in addition to the F-5EM, F-2000, and A-1, from Brazil.
The tactic transportation force will be comprised of the C-130 and C-105 airplanes from Brazil, as well as the C-130 from Canada and Colombia, the KC-767 (Colombia), KC-135 (United States), the KC-130 (air-to-air refuel), while the Brazilian Air Force E-99 radar airplanes will be located in Recife.
For the first time this year, the exercise will count on the participation of the AH-2 Sabre attack helicopters from the Brazilian Air Force, along with the H-60 Blackhawk, for the attack and combat search and rescue missions (C-SAR).
Among the goals of the exercise, the Brazilian Air Force expects to consolidate procedures and tactics with the operating mode of the combat equipment of participating Air Forces, therefore enriching pilot training and increasing our air units’ level of operation.
TO DEFEND: To Guard! To Analyze! To Act!... Cheers to the Air Defenseâ€¦