The Brazilian government allocated $37 million to acquire three low-altitude mobile air radars. The Brazilian Air Force (FAB, in Portuguese) will use the equipment to cover Brazil’s borders with Paraguay and Bolivia. The country shares 1,365 kilometers of border with Paraguay and 3,423 km with Bolivia.
“The partnership will strengthen the fight against arms and drugs entering the country by monitoring small aircraft along the border,” said Public Security Minister Raul Jungmann at a meeting in Cascavel, Paraná state, on September 29, 2018. “Drug dealers use small airplanes and fly over the border at low altitude to escape conventional radars, managing to move a significant amount of arms and drugs that feed trafficking in Brazil.”
FAB’s Social Communication Center told Diálogo that the Brazilian Airspace Control System has 21 of these radars distributed across Brazil. The system seeks to provide order, security, and efficiency for traffic flow at airports and in Brazilian airspace.
Low-altitude air radars
The radars in the border areas with Bolivia and Paraguay only monitor aircraft at high altitude. The lack of low-altitude mobile air radars allows airplanes to evade conventional radars and enter the national territory undetected, while performing low-altitude flights at up to 200 meters, close to trees or hills.
“These radars can also detect low-altitude flights, which is essential in this region because the drug trade uses small planes as principal means of transportation,” Jungmann said. “This means we are closing our aerial borders to drug trafficking. We are closing sea routes to the main ports in Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro and Santos, as well as the bays along the coastline; and now we will also close the border with the two countries with whom we face severe challenges regarding cross-border crimes,” he said.
When the radars detect a suspicious airplane, FAB’s fighter jets intercept it. The service members contact the pilot through an emergency international frequency, seeking information such as origin and destination. If the pilot fails to respond, FAB’s fighter jet may force them to land or alter route. The Federal Police (PF, in Portuguese) wait on the ground to search for weapons and drugs and take the suspects into custody.
During the transfer of fund ceremony, General Nivaldo Luiz Rossato, FAB commander, explained that the three new radars will be combined with the Integrated Border Monitoring System (SISFRON, in Portuguese), a program whose objective is to use high-end technology to monitor Brazil’s 17,000 km of borders with 10 neighboring countries. The pilot project that initiated in 2013 currently covers a range of 650 km in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul that borders Paraguay and Bolivia. The coverage only amounts to 4 percent of the country’s total border being completely monitored by fixed and mobile radars, optical sensors, and service members using night-vision goggles and long-range cameras, among others.
SISFRON includes materials and sensing networks, command and control centers, and is integrated with PF and state police systems to guarantee flow of information. The system was initially scheduled to start operating along the entire Brazilian border in 2022. The date, however, was pushed to 2035, contingent on budget approval. Gen. Rossato said that when the three radars begin to operate they will “close the border’s blind areas,” that is, the regions that are currently difficult to monitor.
“The use of these radars will help us defend our territory. It’s important to defend the airspace. As entry on the ground is so difficult, it’s much easier [for criminals] to bring drugs into the country via air,” said Gen. Rossato, adding that the radars could be operational in 2019.
The next step consists of starting the bidding process to acquire the radars. During the ceremony, Jungmann said he anticipated that similar agreements would be executed with the Brazilian Army and Navy.