The Brazilian Navy’s Contributions to Humanitarian Aid Operations

The Brazilian Navy’s Contributions to Humanitarian Aid Operations

By Brazilian Marine Corps Captain Raphael do Couto Pereira and Lieutenant Colonel Carlos Eduardo Gonçalves da Silva
September 06, 2017

Operating with military troops becomes necessary during actions directly related to humanitarian aid, especially when the presence of agencies devoted to this kind of activity is insufficient or inexistent, or when reaching the most affected populations becomes extremely difficult. In recent years, Brazilian troops have been known to participate in humanitarian aid missions when already deployed on peacekeeping missions. Employing service members in this way requires great flexibility, as they switch to carrying out additional duties that in many cases were not originally part of the mission. To fulfill this myriad duties, training is essential for the troops involved. Thus, the Brazilian Navy (MB, per its Portuguese acronym) contributed greatly by employing its Marine Corps (CFN, per its Portuguese acronym), an amphibious force that is expeditionary by nature, wholly professional, and therefore has a high degree of commitment. The Marine Operation Groups (GptOpFuzNav, per their Portuguese acronym) may be employed in a number of situations, including humanitarian assistance. These groups represent a versatile organizational model that combines combat resources, combat support, and land and air combat services support in a modular way when integrated into the “amphibious mix”, generically understood as the totality of naval, naval air, and marine resources that are ready to complete missions related to power projection on land. Their members are put through an exhaustive selection and training process at all stages of their career by way of internal courses and competitions that are geared towards retaining the best human resources in the military. Legal context The draft of the National Military Policy, submitted to the Brazilian parliament for review in November 2016, highlights the effects of climate change on the planet, which could have serious environmental, social, economic, and political consequences, thereby requiring a greater response capacity from the government. In this context, the demand for humanitarian aid and for peacekeeping operations tends to increase, which means Brazil may be compelled to increase its participation in these kinds of missions. Concomitantly, the draft of the National Defense Strategy emphasizes that, in addition to their bases in the Constitution, the three branches of the Brazilian Armed Forces must be ready to act individually or jointly in international operations – whether expeditionary, peacekeeping or humanitarian aid – to fulfill the commitments the nation has assumed, or to safeguard Brazilian interests abroad, thereby contributing to Brazil’s foreign policy objectives. In concert with these two documents, the Basic Doctrine of the Brazilian Navy (DBM, per its Portuguese acronym), broadly establishes the principles, concepts, and methods for using naval resources in combat or for participating in other actions not related to the end activity in order to guide the organization in its training and use of Brazilian naval power. Recently, the DBM was updated, calling for a new mode of amphibious operations, dubbed Project Anfíbia. Capacities that are intrinsic to the amphibious mix are used to introduce resources into the interest area needed to perform an array of related duties within other contingencies to prevent conflicts and de-escalate crises. According to its 2014 edition, the DBM is also appropriate for use when directing such actions as noncombatant evacuation operations, environmental disaster response, and humanitarian aid operations. One feature that distinguishes humanitarian aid operations is their limited time and area of responsibility. But the logistics effort required to conduct them is beginning to predominate over all other combat activities. This means that the planning and execution of plans must prioritize resources that will minimize the problems faced by the population suffering from the effects of the tragedy. Therefore, humanitarian aid operations are tantamount to a large logistics operation. Field hospitals, hospital ships, and aeromedical evacuation (MEDEVAC) are some examples of how MB, by availing itself of field medicine, can help save lives. Haiti The entire doctrinal framework governing MB’s activities and operations were put to the test during one of the largest natural disasters ever seen in the Americas – the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. On that occasion, MB played a challenging and decisive role in directing the humanitarian aid operation following the disaster, which evidenced MB’s power of mobility, permanence, flexibility, and versatility. As part of its rapid response, the Brazilian Ministry of Defense determined that MB should assign one of its resources with the greatest amphibious and loading capacities to resupply the UN Peacekeeping Force’s Brazilian Battalion and the Brazilian Air Force (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym) Field Hospital in Haiti, including providing the required humanitarian aid. Because of this, the Almirante Sabóia, a landing craft for combat vehicles (NDCC, per its Portuguese acronym) which was already slated to participate in Operation HAITI-VIII, was initially offered. That operation, scheduled to transport routine replenishments to the troops, was moved from May to early February. In two trips, NDCC Almirante Sabóia and NDCC Garcia D’Ávila transported approximately 1,088 tons of cargo to the troops (vehicles, generators, food, etc.) and 1,022 tons of humanitarian aid cargo (mattresses, hygienic supplies, food items, etc.). Establishing lines of communication at sea during the humanitarian aid operation was an unparalleled challenge. Moreover, the precarious port conditions at Port-au-Prince in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake meant that the material needed to be unloaded onto Haitian beaches. Because of this, the need for ships with amphibious capabilities – something no merchant ship could provide – became evident. The availability of loaned resources was also a key factor in confronting the emergency situation. If MB had not had the Almirante Sabóia and Garcia D’Ávila ready for rapid deployment, the response might not have been possible in such a timely manner or with such efficiency and effectiveness. Another important MB contribution to the humanitarian aid operation was deploying a joint humanitarian mission, which used MB helicopters for MEDEVACs, and a mixed medical mission, which saw MB service members and civil servants from the Brazilian Ministry of Health aboard the Italian Navy’s multi-use logistics ship Cavour. On that occasion, a team of 63 MB service members boarded the Italian ship at the port of Fortaleza, on January 28, 2010. The team was comprised of six doctors, one nurse, and nine nursing technicians. Eleven civilian volunteers from the Ministry of Health also reported for duty. Another recent success story with regard to deploying humanitarian aid operations within peacekeeping operations consisted of the preparation and response operations for Hurricane Matthew in 2016. GptOpFuzNav made use of its modular structure and expeditionary capacity to form detachments of personnel and resources that were redirected from their initial duty to conduct reconnaissance in Haiti’s southernmost cities, since it had already been forecast that the worst destruction would be in that part of the country, and to escort members of the Brazilian Army Corps of Engineers who, with their heavy equipment, would be able to clear roads and aid in rescues. The marines conducted reconnaissance operations in cities in which humanitarian aid teams and civil defense teams from the United Nations wanted to position themselves ahead of time to await the hurricane’s passing. Their detachments also decisively contributed to providing continuity in the flow of humanitarian logistics between some of the worst affected cities. Marines in humanitarian operations In addition to their flexibility, it is expected that troops used for additional duties under the mission mandate meet a set of capabilities that will allow them to fully accomplish the mission. Such capabilities are promoted among CFN and MB personnel. As an intrinsic part of Brazil’s naval power, CFN is comprised exclusively of military professionals admitted through public competitions – from the most inexperienced soldier to his general commander. CFN has become the MB’s main vector for accomplishing its naval power functions, whatever the projection of land power may be. Thus, their sailor-soldiers are adapted to live aboard ships as well as for operations on land. Also, marine resources are specifically meant to embark on ships and later disembark onto land, in observance of an established doctrine of using troops and resources in a permanent state of readiness. CFN’s expeditionary capacity is another important feature that greatly helps to serve affected populations in the shortest time possible during a humanitarian aid operation. This allows for the timely use of a self-sufficient force to conduct the mission under austere conditions for a limited time. Moreover, the need for the timely deployment of MB ships to places of interest, unique doctrine, organization, and equipment ready to be boarded and deployed required amphibious outfits to be light, efficient, and agile in their operations. It is precisely this kind of profile that enables marines to be deployed rapidly in a range of environments far from their bases and with unique operational capabilities. Marine troops are always deployed through GptOpFuzNav. In addition to providing the command with flexibility and versatility, this organizational model combines the competencies and capacities of combat, combat support, and combat services support resources in a complementary and integrated way. When used at sea, the naval force is capable of placing the GptOpFuzNav at the appropriate location, with high mobility, through the use of landing craft, amphibious vehicles, and aircraft, among other equipment that may be projected over land. This factor is directly related to strategic mobility, conferring the possibility of a combined use of sea and air transport modes. A new reality Peacekeeping operations, which in the recent past were limited to belligerence between opposing parties, began to be deployed in complex environments. At the same time, combat, which once was seen on battlefields, began to be waged in urban centers. Natural disaster incidents stemming from human activities, the deterioration of the environment, and climate change have also been on the rise, resulting in a complex set of cumulative effects impacting a larger number of people and goods. All of these factors highlight how taking on humanitarian aid operations within the context of peacekeeping operations is now a reality – one that may become more frequent. Due to their organizational structure and logistical capacity, military forces have performed an important role in providing aid and support during these operations because of their resources and capability of being rapidly inserted and optimized.
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