The Brazilian Air Force (FAB, in Portuguese) is on full alert, protecting its airspace and contributing to the fight against illicit trafficking in Brazil’s border region. Between March 2017—when Operation Ostium kicked in to reinforce airspace surveillance—and June 2018, FAB intercepted about 170 illegal aircraft. Ostium is part of the Brazilian Ministry of Defense’s Integrated Border Protection Program.
On June 9, 2018, a FAB A-29 Super Tucano intercepted a single engine Cessna 182P from Bolivia that attempted to cross the Brazilian border with about 300 kilograms of cocaine paste. The pilot, who failed to respond to the air defense pilot’s requests, the first step of airspace control measures, aroused suspicions.
After unsuccessful verification, FAB’s officials ordered a re-route and mandatory landing in Tangará da Serra, Mato Grosso, in midwestern Brazil. However, before reaching the assigned airfield, the single-engine aircraft force-landed in a rural area near Serra de Tapirapuã, in Mato Grosso. “This forced-landing put an end to the air defense mission. The Federal Police’s mission began, seizing drugs and arresting the crew,” FAB General Carlos Vuyk de Aquino, commander of the Aerospace Operations Command (COMAE, in Portuguese), told Diálogo.
Located in Brasília, COMAE is a FAB unit responsible for enforcing airspace authority to guarantee airspace sovereignty and integrate the national territory. The unit, which can engage aircraft anywhere in the country, is the point of convergence of intelligence information generated during Ostium.
According to Gen. Aquino, Brazilian airspace surveillance operates 24 hours a day through a web of radars that covers the country’s continental territory and some of Brazil’s territorial waters in the Atlantic. E-99 radar aircraft strengthen coverage.
“This aircraft is equipped with operational positioning that enables autonomous air defense operations and the transmission of information to control agencies on the ground,” said Gen. Aquino. “The E-99 is strategically significant to conduct airspace control activities, especially due to its ability to detect aircraft flying at low altitude. Criminals often use this type of flight to circumvent ground systems.”
The fight against drug trafficking and other transnational crimes is a joint and combined effort with other Brazilian agencies and neighboring countries. “FAB contributes by monitoring air traffic to send intelligence data or following suspicious aircraft from a distance, to collaborate with law enforcement,” Gen. Aquino said.
Intercepted aircraft are subject to coercive measures, which FAB air defense pilots implement progressively. They conduct inquiries to identify the origin of the aircraft, then order a re-route or mandatory landing. “If this fails, the pilot will resort to persuasive measures, Gen. Aquino said.
The officer highlighted Ostium’s efficiency in the fight against illegal trafficking, pointing to another important seizure on the border with Bolivia, April 25, 2018. “During an interception conducted in the north of Corumbá, Mato Grosso do Sul, an aircraft carrying approximately 500 kg of cocaine paste failed to obey orders from the air defense pilots, and it became necessary to resort to airspace control measures”.
The aircraft, which crossed from Colombia, force-landed at a lake in Pantanal National Park, in Mato Grosso. Three A-29 Super Tucano and one E-99 radar aircraft conducted the interception. Federal Police seized the illegal cargo.
“The aircraft in question was intercepted because it didn’t have a flight plan and carried a fake registration,” FAB Lieutenant General Ricardo Cesar Mangrich, chief of the Aerospace Operations Command’s General Staff said. “It’s important that aircraft produce flight plans in all regions outlined by air traffic rules.”