An aircraft takes off from the municipality of São Gabriel da Cachoeira in the state of Amazonas and is identified by radar. Aircraft from the Brazilian Air Force (FAB, per its Portuguese acronym) are activated to intercept the unknown aircraft, which is forced to change its flight path. In doing so, it enters Colombian territory. Pilots from the Colombian Air Force (FAC, per its Spanish acronym) intercept the aircraft and force it to change direction once more. Finally, the suspect aircraft enters Peruvian airspace, where fighters from the Peruvian Air Force (FAP, per its Spanish acronym) force it to land in the town of Iquitos, terminating its flight.
This was the agenda for the first day of the Amazonas I exercise, which brought together military personnel from Brazil, Colombia, and Peru against unlawful acts perpetrated in the airspace over the common borders of these three countries. The operation, including the deployment of aircraft to the exercise location and back to the base, was conducted June 19 th to 23rd, but the activities took place between June 20th and 22nd.
“A wide range of crimes are being committed in the triple border region, and the number of aerial violations has risen a great deal recently. The Brazilian Armed Forces already pay special attention to this region. FAB is no exception, and it is always present, constantly undertaking operations to try and prevent transnational crimes,” stated Colonel Marcelo Alvim Agrícola, the coordinator of the training exercise as a FAB representative.
Missions of this type are no novelty for the air forces involved in Amazonas I. These institutions have established rules and procedures to be applied in cases where air traffic is transferred from one country to another by means of the so-called Binational Airspace Defense Norms. The unique aspect of this particular exercise is that it involved the air forces of more than two countries.
“Before 2017, we had staged missions similar to Amazonas I, where an aircraft would fly a certain route and used it to practice coordination among the different forces involved, the scrambling of interceptors, the transfer of traffic between the air defense centers, etc.,” said Col. Alvim. “But those missions were all binational. This operation was the first multinational effort,” he emphasized.
Amazonas I exercise was conducted over three days. Each day one country assumed the role of the target aircraft, beginning with Brazil, while the others had to operate the interception aircraft.
In the morning, the target would take off from one country and would be intercepted and forced to change its flight path – one of the measures of airspace policing employed by the military forces. This way the target would be forced to enter another country’s airspace and intercepted a second time, and forced to cross the border into the third country. There, the target was again intercepted by fighter aircraft, whose pilots would undertake the necessary procedures to force it to land. In the afternoon, the same steps were repeated, this time on a reverse route.
“The purpose is to have all our protocols [ready] so that, in a real interdiction scenario –especially aircraft involved in drug running– our three air forces can do their work very effectively,” Peruvian Minister of Defense Jorge Nieto Montesinos told the press. Amazonas I has been planned since 2015, after an initial meeting in Colombia.
In order to improve learning, the nations involved in the training exercise also implemented an exchange program for pilots and military air operations controllers. FAB received a FAP pilot and two controllers, one from FAP and one from FAC.
“The intention was for personnel to get firsthand experience on how things are done in the other countries,” said Col. Alvim. This way the controllers were able to observe how the control of interceptions and general procedures are conducted in countries other than their own and the pilots had the opportunity to fly with their foreign peers and learn each other’s routines.
With regard to FAB, the experience and lessons learned will be shared within the force through individual reports written by the pilots and controllers who took part in the exchange program. “Everything is documented and processed within the Air Force so that the knowledge gained can be analyzed, possibly even leading to changes in our own procedures and doctrine. We will incorporate the most important aspects,” stated Col. Alvim.
A C-98 Caravan was chosen by FAB to play the role of target aircraft. This single-engine aircraft is mainly used for transportation activities. “Its performance is similar to that of most aircraft used in unlawful activities in the border region, which usually fly low and slow,” explained Col. Alvim.
As interceptors, the A-29 Super Tucano was chosen by FAC, which has 24 aircraft of this type in its inventory. FAP, on the other hand, deployed A-37 Dragonfly and KT-1P aircraft. FAB also mobilized the E-99 airborne early warning and control aircraft for the mission, which operated as an operations center secondary to the Integrated Center for Aerial Defense and Air Traffic IV, one of the FAB units responsible for commercial and military air traffic control, airspace surveillance, and aerial defense command and control in Brazil.