The irregular warfare exercise consisted of fighting against insurgent groups, paramilitary organizations, and resistance movements. The Brazilian Air Force’s (FAB, in Portuguese) Operational Exercise (EXOP, in Portuguese) Tápio, which included scenarios similar to peacekeeping missions of the United Nations.
The unprecedented 16-day exercise took place between April and May 2018, involving about 700 service members from 21 air force squadrons. FAB used 42 aircraft from its different branches in the training exercise: fighters, rotary-wing, transport, search and rescue (SAR), and reconnaissance aircraft. Those included the C-130 Hercules; C-105 Amazonas; SC-105 Amazonas SAR; C-95 Bandeirante; E-99; A-1 AMX; A-29 Super Tucano; H-36 Caracal; MI-35 AH-2 Sabre; and H-60L Black Hawk helicopters. In all, aircraft logged in around 1,200 flight hours.
The 5th Wing’s base in Campo Grande, in the mid-western Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul, served as the backdrop for the exercise. FAB Colonel André Luiz Alves Ferreira, co-director of the exercise and head of the Operational Preparation Control Division of the Preparation Command (COMPREP, in Portuguese), said the choice for the first edition of Tápio was far from random. “The 5th Wing is very versatile and encompasses organizations capable of undertaking search and rescue operations, air defense, tactical transport missions, and special operations,” Col. André Luiz told Diálogo. “In addition, the surrounding region has very favorable climatic conditions at this time of year and a geographical area with appropriate characteristics to conduct the exercise.”
The objective of the activities, Col. André Luiz said, was to train aerial squadrons and infantry units in combined operations. “The focus was on a wide-ranging and rational training exercise, based on a realistic and up-to-date operational scenario. If, in the future, FAB becomes engaged in UN peacekeeping missions, this training will be very useful,” he explained..
In addition to FAB service members, four members of the Brazilian Army and four from the Brazilian Navy participated in EXOP Tápio. Service members acted as forward air controllers, coordinating aerial attack missions on targets within a defined area. “It was an excellent opportunity to undertake joint missions in an exercise under FAB’s control,” said Col. André Luiz.
Composite aerial missions
Air squadrons and infantry units took part in the Air Force’s most important missions. The missions included close air support, forward air control, escort, aerial reconnaissance, aerial infiltration and exfiltration, combat SAR, aerial medevac, air assault, and counter-air defense, among others.
“We started with some doctrinal guidelines to disseminate important operational concepts about the flights themselves. Aerial activities began on the second day and, according to design, their complexity evolved gradually, until we executed composite air operations (COMAO),” said Col. André Luiz.
FAB Major General Augusto Cesar Abreu dos Santos, exercise director and commander of 5th Wing, said the greatest benefit of Tápio was COMAO. “They involve around 20 aircraft which take off together and fulfill certain objectives; coordination is essential and very complex. We were successful in more than 90 percent of the simulated training scenarios,” he told the Air Force Press Agency.
Quality of training benefits squadrons
“An exercise involving 26 squadrons operating together is no routine event; therefore, the exchange of experience and the lessons learned during these missions allow us to grow operationally,” said FAB Lieutenant Colonel Luciano Antônio Marchiorato Dobignies, commander of the Second Squadron of the 10th Aviation Group. “The Tápio exercise provided participating units with valuable doctrinal and operational lessons,” he added.
The Pelican Squadron, part of the 5th Wing, took part in EXOP Tápio with 100 of its 130 service members. The team flew 384 missions, mostly combat SAR and close air support, the unit's specialties. Of these, 17 missions fell under the SC-105, an aircraft configured for SAR missions. “We also took part in the general coordination of the exercise, especially in planning combat SAR missions and providing tactical pre-hospital care,” Lt. Col. Marchiorato told Diálogo.
The role of the Pelican Squadron during Tápio was to assist in the rescue of a crew-member brought down in hostile territory. Two helicopters and their crew extracted and provided medical care to the victim and two to four helicopters (AH-2 Sabre) or fixed-wing aircraft (A-29) escorted the SAR rotary-wing aircraft. “The aircraft took off in a coordinated manner so that the helicopters were continuously covered against ground-based threats. The SC-105 flew high, outside the range of any ground-based threats and provided updates on the overall situation on the battlefield and the condition of the evading service member using electro-optical, radar, and personnel locator systems. The mission was considered a success when the evading service member was rescued and all aircraft returned to safety,” explained Lt. Col. Marchiorato.
Col. André Luiz believes that the first edition of the training exercise fulfilled its objectives. “We standardized the doctrine conceived, trained the crews in all planned air force missions, and learned a number of lessons that will be important for future exercises.”
In addition to Tápio, COMPREP planned two major conventional warfare exercises: Tínia, a land-based exercise, and Caríbidis, to take place in a tactical maritime environment. “Our idea is to hold two of these three EXOP every year, to be defined in accordance with command aspirations and prior analysis for priority and need for training,” Col. André Luiz said.