Unmanned Aircraft to Patrol Brazilian Borders
By Dialogo December 10, 2010
Brazilian federal police took delivery Dec. 1 of three unmanned aerial
vehicles (UAVs) that will be used to combat drug trafficking and arms smuggling
along the nation’s vast borders.
The three aircraft, known as the Vant VT-15, are the first of 14 that will
patrol more than 10,000 miles (16,800 kilometers) of borderlands. They will fly from
five bases in border areas and one in Brasilia, according to a report in the
newspaper O Globo.
Brazilian authorities hope to focus its sophisticated cameras and radars on
remote areas where traffickers and smugglers take advantage of dense cover to ply
The cameras on the vehicle are sensitive enough to identify a kilo of cocaine
from an altitude of 11,000 feet (3.3 kilometers), O Globo reported.
The images are transmitted in real time to the aircraft's base of operations
and displayed on monitors.
The VT-15 underwent trials in Brazil last year, according to numerous media
During the trials, the planes flew under challenging and unpredictable
weather conditions in one of the most difficult areas of Brazil - the state of
Parana, several newspapers reported.
They can fly at an altitude of 30,000 feet (9 kilometers), making for a
difficult target for standard anti-aircraft weapons.
The VT-15 can carry a 250 kilograms (550 pound) payload. It has a wingspan of
16.6 meters (54 feet) and weighs 1,200 kilograms (2,640 pounds).
Officials in Brazil have discussed using the technology for more than just
patrolling the borders.
Brazilian leaders are negotiating agreements with neighbors Uruguay,
Paraguay, Bolivia and Colombia to allow the VT-15s to enter the airspace of those
nations to collect intelligence on illicit activities.
Brazilian officials told O Globo the overflights would only map areas of drug
production or other illegal activity. The photos, films and reports from those
flights would be delivered to the authorities of the country in question.
It would then be up to the authorities in those countries to decide what to
do with the intelligence. They could design their own raids or participate in joint
efforts with the Brazilian Federal Police in the border areas, Brazilian authorities
told O Globo.
The governments of Uruguay, Paraguay and Bolivia have agreed to discuss the
terms of the agreement. Colombia rejected the initial proposal.
The use of UAVs in Brazil and abroad is part of a major initiative that
President-Elect Dilma Rousseff is expected to launch early in her administration, O
The vulnerability of borders was one of the hottest topics in the campaign.
Brazilian law enforcement officials also would like to use the VT-15 for some of the
operations against drug gangs in the country’s urban areas.
“We could identify criminals, see every shack where they were going in and
what kind of weapons were at hand . . . we could do it all without being seen,” said
an officer who spoke to O Globo on the condition of anonymity.
The total cost of the 14 UAVs is reported at about RS$800 million (U.S. $471
milllion), Brazilian newspapers reported.
The Brazilians won’t be the first to employ UAVs to combat drug smuggling
along a vast border.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection currently operates six Predator drones.
While their flight paths are classified, their surveillance is focused on the
U.S. side of the 2,000-mile border with Mexico, U.S. officials said.
Each comes as part of $18.5 million packages that include a mobile
ground-control station and sensors. The drones weigh 5 tons each, are wider than
five lanes of interstate highway, and can stay up for 20 hours — enough time to fly
the entire border on one tank of fuel, the Chronicle reported.