Diálogo spoke with Brazilian Navy Admiral Ademir Sobrinho about the main challenges he faces as chief of the Brazilian Armed Forces, such as cyberdefense, combating transregional crime, and other relevant issues.
Diálogo: What are your priorities as chief of Defense of the Brazilian Armed Forces?
Brazilian Navy Admiral Ademir Sobrinho, chief of Defense of the Brazilian Armed Forces: Without a doubt, it’s to achieve full interoperability in the [Brazilian] Armed Forces’ joint operations. The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the [Brazilian] Armed Forces was created seven years ago . In a few short years, we’ve made substantial progress in our pursuit of such interoperability, moving forward slowly but steadily. We still have a long way to go to achieve and adopt full interoperability. It’s a path that depends not only on winning the hearts and minds of our personnel—in each branch of service as well as in the Joint Chiefs of Staff—but also on developing the tools, doctrine, and procedures to allow us to fully address this priority.
Diálogo: What is needed for that to happen?
Adm. Sobrinho: We need to do the following:
- Understand our traditions, our idiosyncrasies, and the customs of each branch of the service. They have their own characteristics, steeped in nearly two centuries of tradition for the Army and Navy, and more than 70 years for the Air Force;
- Let Armed Forces personnel understand that, although we’re a new body that seeks to improve or at least modify our age-old habits and procedures, we’re doing so with the ideal of an evolution in the use of the Armed Forces. The joint use of the Armed Forces is a reality in today’s world, and one of our most important daily struggles;
- Integrate macroprocesses of logistics, while respecting the intrinsic processes of the Armed Forces;
- Finish our studies on “Capacity-Based Planning” and the “Reformulation of Military Defense Policy, Strategy, and Doctrine,” which are essential documents to review and update the “Armed Forces Structure and Equipment Plan” as we seek to meet our defense needs within our budgetary constraints in a changing domestic and international setting;
- Finish developing the tools and systems that will truly allow us to have full interoperability, such as software-defined radio, data link, identification systems, and an image fusion and sensor operating system that will also address the needs of other government agencies, etc.;
- Create a mentality, by developing a doctrine and acquiring a capacity for field medicine that will offer a greater sense of security and assistance for our service members on the front lines and which may also help in civil defense operations;
- Increase the use of classification systems for equipment of the Armed Forces—especially new ones—and the defense industry; and adopt NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] methods to manage systems’ life cycles.
Diálogo: The theme of the 2017 South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC) held in Lima, Peru, was “Facing Global Challenges.” Speaking more specifically about South America, what challenges are these?
Adm. Sobrinho: At SOUTHDEC 2017, there was unanimity about the need to strengthen our bonds in the fight against transregional and cross-border crimes. This is a big challenge that was outlined at the conference, and it was the topic of the first three panel discussions of the delegations. Some examples of transregional threats were extremist groups’ actions, narcotrafficking activities, transnational crime, and criminal networks. Another challenge addressed was the role of the armed forces in cyberdefense of strategic infrastructure. We need to develop ways to increase our situational awareness and mechanisms to decrease threats to critical infrastructure. The solutions were to adapt, find means for cooperation and information networks. The third and final challenge addressed the participation of armed forces in disaster management and in response to partner nations, which consists of establishing a regional protocol to coordinate requests from affected countries and optimize humanitarian aid. Each country must have its own risk and disaster management center to allow for communication with regional coordination centers and focus on priorities. The importance of regional synergy for armed forces to face new challenges was a constant theme of the discussions.
Diálogo: Speaking of challenges, how do frequent contingency budgets and limits forecasted on spending for the federal government impact the Brazilian Armed Forces’ operations?
Adm. Sobrinho: Without question, controlling the federal expansion in public spending will impact the Armed Forces’ activities. The Armed Forces are already developing and even adopting actions to mitigate budget impacts, such as downsizing personnel through troop reduction and increasing the number of temporary-duty service members; concentrating administrative and bureaucratic functions of military organizations located in the same area; and dissolving military units.
Diálogo: Could the financial crisis that Brazil is going through have an effect on joint military exercises with partner nations in the region and with the United States?
Adm. Sobrinho: The Armed Forces are paying close attention to the nation’s financial crisis, and they have pulled out all the stops to maximize the use of resources to adjust to the economic reality. As such, the budget forecast, which the contingency budget impacts, provides for Brazil’s participation—although not at the desired level—in missions with our various partner nations, including the United States, in military exercises like PANAMAX and other operations conducted jointly with the armed forces of this region.
Diálogo: Why is it important to work with other armed forces in the region and with the United States?
Adm. Sobrinho: International relations are the basis of mutual trust and increase partnerships, knowledge, and experience exchanges, among other things. For national development and regional stability, it’s essential that the Brazilian Armed Forces, as an instrument to support diplomacy and cooperation, work with the nations of South America, to seek harmony and face common threats. The United States is a longstanding strategic partner. We’ve been working together since the beginning of the last century. The United States was the first nation to recognize our independence. It also provides substantial help in the area of cooperation, strengthens the bonds of friendship, and makes it possible to achieve regional interests in terms of development and security.
Diálogo: Why is it important for Brazil to participate in United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions?
Adm. Sobrinho: Brazil’s participation in peacekeeping missions under the auspices of the United Nations offers unparalleled opportunities to the Brazilian government, notable among them:
- Project Brazil on the international scene, from its cooperation with the UN, in the pursuit of international peace and security;
- Help mitigate the suffering of people in disaster-stricken areas due to earthquakes or hurricanes, through humanitarian assistance;
- Have Brazilian troops conduct training exercises and develop interoperability with other nations’ forces in real-world situations;
- Improve operational systems—logistics particularly;
- Develop a doctrine of employment and update procedures and practices in the work with international organizations and in interagency operations; and
- Increase professional training and motivation of military personnel by participating in real-world operations within the context of peacekeeping missions.
Diálogo: What are the main takeaways from the Brazilian Armed Forces’ participation in the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics?
Adm. Sobrinho: The first big lesson concerns the need to keep our command and control assets up to date and operational, as their importance for decision-making and implementation was made evident during operations at both large events. The Armed Forces’ participation in the large events also allowed for the acquisition of knowledge and experience applicable in various situations involving troops, with substantial operational benefits. So, we have seen improvements in all our operational systems, especially in command and control, intelligence, and logistics. Nuclear, chemical, biological, and radiological defense operations, as well as cyber defense and the prevention and response to terrorist attacks, represent areas where Defense has made significant advancements. Another great legacy was the knowledge acquired through interaction and cooperation between military and government agencies, which was decisive for our success at those large events, and served as a reference for future intelligence operations.
Diálogo: How do you see the Brazilian Armed Forces’ participation in the current operations in the favelas [slums] and other critical areas in Rio de Janeiro?
Adm. Sobrinho: Article 142 of the Brazilian Constitution sets forth the Armed Forces’ mission, specifying that they are to defend the nation, uphold constitutional powers, and, through the initiative of any of those branches, maintain law and order. The support of the Armed Forces to the state of Rio de Janeiro was at the request of the state government with the president’s [of Brazil] approval, and in compliance with legal requirements. The Armed Forces’ actions are included in the National Public Safety Plan and are sporadic operations of occasional and episodic nature that take place in restricted areas over limited periods, where public safety agencies’ assets in the state are insufficient.
Diálogo: Are the Brazilian Armed Forces using these operations to foster more human rights awareness among service members?
Adm. Sobrinho: The Brazilian Armed Forces are and have been for a long time this nation’s most credible institution. Brazilian society understands that the Armed Forces’ actions are based on legal precepts guaranteed by the Brazilian Constitution. All the rights and responsibilities provided in the Magna Carta are and will always be respected by every member of the military. Service members are aware of their duty to the Constitution regardless of the operation carried out. Human rights are part of the curriculum at Armed Forces academies, and service members, at different levels, understand early on the importance of this issue. Our GLO [Law and Order Assurance] operations are established rules of engagement that guide each service member and also address proper use of force, applied only as a last resort, proportional to the hostile act and in accordance with the principles established by law. All service members sent on GLO missions are trained to treat the public with courtesy and respect and to protect human dignity, including that of people who disturb the peace.