Brazilian Army Tests Remotely Piloted Aircraft System for Use along Its National Borders

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Por Kay Valle/Diálogo
octubre 14, 2016

The Brazilian Army is testing its first Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) used to locate and identify targets. The 9th Campaign Artillery Group (9th GAC, per its Portuguese acronym) will be in charge of the prototype called the Horus FT 100. "The Target Search Battery is a military unit whose fundamental objective is to provide data on targets and send them to an artillery unit so that it is able to react more quickly against a threat," explained Lieutenant Colonel Moacyr Azevedo Couto Junior, commander of the 9th GAC. "It doesn't operationally exist yet in the Brazilian ground forces," he added. The RPAS – an aircraft equipped with controlling software, is one of the tools used by the Battery to locate and identify targets within a given radius of action. It is being studied for deployment in missions along the borders, in addition to specific artillery-related activities. "During border operations, we will be able to use the RPAS to, for example, do reconnaissance on bodies, observe roads and vicinities, monitor suspicious cars on highways, and identify targets," Lt. Col. Couto said. "We haven't participated in any operations yet because we're in the team- training stage, but we've already had the ability to engage in this type of mission," he added. The first flight is expected to take place by the end of 2016, during the Federal Police’s Operation “Antonio Joao”. "After pilot training and a series of activities with the system have been completed, it will be possible to develop a proposal to deploy the Battery, so that it can start operating, in practice, within the Brazilian Army," stated Lt. Col. Couto. That phase is known as the experimentation phase, and is scheduled to end in 2017. Strategic positioning The group’s proximity to Brazil’s border areas – around 230 kilometers from Paraguay and 310 kilometers from Bolivia – is one reason it was chosen to undertake the experimentation mission. The 9th GAC is subordinate to the 4th Mechanized Calvary Brigade, which encompasses the area where implementation of the Integrated Border Monitoring System (SISFRON, for its Portuguese acronym) began in 2014. The project calls for the installation of a technological platform equipped with radars, computers, and communication systems along 16,000 kilometers of Brazil's borders. The goal is to combat the most common crimes in these areas, such as drug trafficking and contraband. "The Horus FT 100's deployment joins forces with SISFRON's tools, expanding the Army's capacity to monitor our border regions," says Lt. Col. Couto. The Horus FT 100 was delivered to the 9th GAC in February. Since then, attempts have been made to connect the system with the SISFRON equipment, yielding positive results. "We transmitted RPAS images to a SISFRON control center in real time during an ongoing operation. It worked really well," Lt. Col. Couto said. Eyes in the sky The Horus FT 100 is an unmanned aircraft. These types of flight platforms are known as "eyes in the sky" because they expand the military's aerial observational capacity. Sensors attached to the aircraft act like "eyes." The Horus FT 100 has the capacity to operate with four types of sensors: an electro-optical imaging and infrared sensor (for nighttime operations); a laser target designator sensor (to identify a point with precision); a signal intelligence sensor (to capture long-range communication data); and an aerial photogrammetric sensor (which enables maps to be produced using photographs). The aircraft acquired by the Army works with daytime multi-camera video that transmits images in real time. Regarding the equipment's characteristics, First Lieutenant Marcelo Fontes da Costa Filho, one of the pilots in the Target Search Battery, explained that the aircraft is a short-range category 1, able to travel a maximum radius of 27 kilometers at a maximum height of nearly 3 kilometers. "But, for filming, the ideal scenario is for the aircraft to remain at 4,000 feet, which is more or less about one kilometer in the air," 1st Lt. Marcelo said. During takeoff and landing, the Horus FT 100 is operated by a pilot from the ground using a radio-controlled system to fly the aircraft. While it is in the air, the aircraft is not flown by a pilot, but by software programmed with the entire route, along with all the actions to be completed by the aircraft. "Before the mission begins, we program the software. But this itinerary can be modified during the operation," 1st Lt. Marcelo added. Pilot training The Target Search Battery team has four pilots, two of whom have already completed training. 1st Lt. Marcelo is among them. Training began in 2014 at the FT Sistemas, Horus FT 100's manufacturer, headquartered in upstate Sao Paulo. "During training at the manufacturer, we learned about the equipment's aerodynamics, the aircraft's assembly, radio-controlled operation, software programming, and everything else required using the Horus FT 100," 1st Lt. Marcelo stated. "But our training didn't stop there. Every week, we go through flight-training activities.” Afterwards, they completed two aeronautical knowledge internships. The first one, held last year, took place at the Army's Aviation Instruction Center in Taubaté, and the second at the Army's Third Aviation Battalion in Campo Grande. "The goal of this internship is mostly to provide a view about flight safety," 1st Lt. Marcelo added. Flight safety not only focuses on the equipment but also on the pilots, 1st Lt. Marcelo explained. This requires paying attention to the weather forecast and prior contact with the Air Force to avoid having other aircraft in the same area where the flight will take place. It also requires that the team carefully select the site where it is going to position itself to operate the aircraft. “We try to choose a spot as far away as possible from side roads that might be used by suspects to surprise us,” 1st Lt. Marcelo concluded.