For more than 30 years, the Air Forces of Brazil and Paraguay have cooperated in the fight against international drug trafficking and other illegal enterprises.
The level of cooperation has grown over time and includes exchanges in joint training and common procedures to coordinate the flow of flights between the two countries.
Signed in 1982 following Paraguay's acquisition of Brazilian-made Xavante aircraft and radar and communication systems in 1981, the bilateral agreement is the Brazilian Air Force's (FAB) longest-standing agreement with another country.
Following the agreement's establishment, a Brazilian government decree created the Brazilian Aeronautical Mission (MTAB), which is comprised of technical advisors who contribute to the training, operations, and logistical operations of the Paraguayan Air Force (FAP) and the National Civil Aeronautics Directorate (DINAC).
Fighting drug trafficking and other illegal enterprises
The goals of the cooperative agreement include testing the instruments used by Paraguayan forces as they detect and stop airplanes carrying illegal loads, such as drugs and firearms, in Paraguayan airspace, according to FAB Colonel Airton Miguel Yasbeck, Jr., who commands the FAB group headquartered in Luque about 15 km from Asunción, Paraguay's capital city.
“We do not interfere in direct operations to combat illicit trafficking; instead, we indirectly assist the Paraguayan Air Force (FAP) and the National Civil Aeronautics Directorate (DINAC),” Col. Yasbeck said. “Support for drafting and publication of manuals and bilateral agreements on air space controls keeps us very busy. The focus is on air space security.”
The joint operational agreement executed on December 11 between the DINAC and Brazil’s Air Space Control Department is an example of the type of work Col. Yasbeck described. The agreement establishes common procedures to coordinate the flow of flights between Pedro Juan Caballero Airport in Paraguay’s Department of Amambay, and Ponta Porã Airport in the Brazilian State of Mato Grosso do Sul.
“These two airports are very close to each other, they are on the border, and they operate over the radio. The agreement defines procedures, which will make the pilots and crew safer,” said Major Sandro Roberto Nobre, 41, an MTAB air space control advisor who was involved in drafting the guidelines. “The agreement had long been awaited by both sides.”
FAB and FAP engage in joint training
Joint training is an important aspect of the ongoing cooperation between the Brazilian and Paraguayan Air Forces.
For example, from November 21 to December 12, nine FAP service members trained with a FAB unit in the Lagoa Santa Aeronautical Materials Park (PAMA-LS) in the Brazilian State of Minas Gerais.
Maintaining the hydraulic, electronic, and pneumatic systems for T-27 Tucanos, which are made in Brazil and are the primary model in operation in the FAP fleet, was an important part of the cooperative training. The FAP often uses Tucanos for drug enforcement missions.
Pilots often use the T-27 to intercept aircraft which fly at low altitudes, according to Brazilian Major Ricardo Bevilaqua Mendes. The joint training focuses on how to monitor the aircraft's parts, such as the landing gear and ejection seats.
“This provides greater security during Military actions,” said Maj. Mendes. The two air forces also at times conduct joint artillery training.
The FAB and the FAP work cooperatively on various aspects of the joint training. For example, the MTAB develops curricula and classroom content. The FAP Commander's office requested Portuguese language classes, and the first of these courses began in 2014. The number of these classes will increase in 2015.
Mutual respect between the FAB and the FAP
The Air Forces of the two countries work well together to achieve mutual goals.
“There is mutual respect and admiration, and our classes are well received," Col. Yasbeck said "We are trying to meet their needs and doing our best."
Colonel Carlos Pistilli, FAP’s Social Communication director, praised the joint training regarding the maintenance of the T-27 Tucanos.
“Most important is the training to update the pilots’ and mechanics’ knowledge, in addition to safety," Col. Pistilli said. "Brazil has one of the most advanced air forces in the world."
Military officers from the two countries have built this mutual respect by training together and spending time with each other.
For example, MTAB members in Asunción interact with DINAC authorities on a daily basis. MTAB Major Santo Roberto Nobre and his assistant have seats at the Joint Control Center, which monitors all of Paraguay’s air space.
Many Paraguayan air traffic controllers have trained with their Brazilian counterparts, too.
Air traffic controllers from the two countries share training and work on security programs together.
“We are working on an in-flight operational security management program and we support that through the use of radar,” Maj. Nobre said. “Security in this area depends upon sharing information.”
The importance of sharing information
Sharing information is an important component of the ongoing cooperative mission.
For example, the MTAB also provides assistance to the FAP by sharing Brazil’s knowledge on how to respond to illegal flights, Col. Pistilli said. The idea is to develop manuals with procedures for how to respond to such flights.
“We are fighting the scourge of drugs, a fight that is coordinated by the National Drug Enforcement Department," the colonel added. "DINAC cannot act alone, and neither can the FAP.”
Nine members of the MTAB participated in a joint set of military exercises (PARBRA) with about 60 FAP service members and 100 from the FAB in May 2013.
A similar joint training session will be conducted in 2015 or 2016 to help both countries fight narco-flights, noted Pistilli.
"A well-equipped and well-trained Air Force gets more results in combating illegal flights," he concluded.