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Red Flag over Brasil

Bob Archer and Chris Lofting report on Exercise 'Cruzex IV'

The South American continent is a most fascinating and enchanting land, encompassing thirteen countries, with Brasil the largest (and the fifth biggest in the world). Covering the same land mass as Europe, but with a population only twice that of Germany, Brasil's population live primarily on the coastal fringe, leaving a vast and largely empty landmass in the hinterland. Brasil was colonised by the Portuguese in 1500, before gaining independence almost three hundred years later. Since ejecting Dutch occupants, Brasil has enjoyed a peaceful coexistence with her neighbours, which is reflected in the population who are a kind, relaxed and friendly race. Nevertheless, from 1-14 November open warfare raged across the northeaster part of the country - the area known as Rio Grade de Norte. However, no weapons were involved, and no deaths or injuries sustained, as the region was engaged in Exercise 'Cruzex IV', the bi-annual opportunity for all elements of the Brasilian Air Force, and invited guests to evaluate their capabilities in a fictitious scenario.

Cruisin'on Cruzex

Held bi-annually, and alternating with one its neighbouring air arms, planning for the fourth Cruzex began almost a year ago. 'Cruzex' is designed to evaluate military forces operating within a realistic framework of fictitious nations at war - in this case Blue Forces (Coalition) attempting to counter the aggressive actions of the Red Forces (Opponents) based upon a conflict of low intensity. The scenario was an ethnically based situation, with Redland wishing to re-unite Yellowland, which had been partitioned some years earlier. The invasion of Yellowland by Redland forces resulted in the United Nations Security Council issuing a resolution to enable a coalition of forces from Blueland to force the belligerents to withdraw back to their own territory. Redland was located in the area south of Fortaleza, while Yellowland was to the east centred upon the Mossoro region. Blueland occupied the region further east, including the cities of Natal and Recife. In effect, Cruzex is based upon a scenario similar to the United States Red Flag exercise.

The multilateral air exercise included participation from Chile, France Uruguay and Venezuela, as well as the host nation Brasil. Argentina was to have participated, but was forced to cancel shortly before the exercise began. Observers from Bolivia, Columbia, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, and the USA were also in attendance - the latter from US Southern Command, with headquarters at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. 'Cruzex IV' was designed as a simulated low intensity air campaign within the constraints imposed by peacetime regulations and safety issues. A large Brasilian, along the entire overseas air arms were formed into a coalition force within Blueland, ranged against the opposition forces of Redland, composed entirely of Brasilian service personnel.

The Joint Force Air Component Command (JFACC) was headquartered at Base Aerea Natal, where the main offensive contingents (Blue forces) were located, while additional units were stationed at Recife. The Red forces were located at Fortaleza and Mossaro. The entire overseas fixed-wing contingent operated from Natal, with many of the fighter types housed in sun shelters. These were composed of six Chilean Northrop F-5E Tigre IIIs supported by a Boeing KB-707 tanker; France with four Dassault Mirage 2000Cs and four Mirage 2000Ns. Uruguay sent a three Cessna OA-37B Dragonflies and a trio of FMA IA-58 Pucaras, while Venezuela contributed six Lockheed Martin F-16A Falcons. Brasil participated with the largest contingent, drawn from almost two dozen different squadrons. Operating from Natal were six Dassault Mirage F-2000s, six Northrop F-5EM Tiger IIs, twelve Embraer A-1A, A-1B, A-1A (recon) AMXs, five Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos; and four Embraer R-99A/E-99 (EMB-145 AEW&C system - AWACS), A mixed helicopter component was formed around a Eurocopter (Aerospatiale) H-34 Cougar, three Bell H-1H Iroquois; four Helibras UH-50 (HB.355 Esquilo); and a pair of new Sikorsky UH-60L Blackhawks. The Blue forces were supported by aircraft located at Recife including C-95 and R-95A Bandeirantes, two R-99B (EMB-145 reconnaissance systems), two EADS-CASA C-105 Amazonas; a Lockheed Martin KC-130H Hercules, and a Boeing KC-137 tanker. The Red forces main base was at Fortaleza where six F-5EM/F-5FMs, five A-1s (AMXs), six Embraer AT-26 Xavantes; and a KC-130H. Red helicopters included a small mixed compliment of UH-1H and UH-50 at Mossaro Airport.

Preparing the Exercise

Preparation for the exercise began in the spring of 2008, with senior personnel from JFACC (composed of all the participating members and observers) meeting to formulate the initial details. Apart from the aviation elements, there was the need to arrange for all manner of communications, catering, accommodation, field medical facilities, and a host of other necessities required to operate effectively. Subsequent regular planning meetings culminated in the arrival of the first participants on 1 November. The period 3rd to 6th November was devoted to familiarisation flying, and forces integration training, before the first live exercise was staged on Friday 7th. Saturday 8th was a rare chance for relaxation, with Natal staging a small open day and air show, although only the Brazilian national display team 'Smoke Squadron' with the Embraer T-27 Tucano flew. Sunday was a non exercise day, before the LIVEX recommenced between Monday 10th to Thursday 13th, devoted to operations as the fictitious scenario was played out. Initially this consisted of air superiority missions, before switching to interdiction as the threat from the Red forces air component diminished. Throughout this phase, the coalition carried out Combat Search-and-Rescue (CSAR) to locate and recover pilots shot down by the red forces. Towards the end of the period, national evacuation missions and logistics transport/re-supply efforts were mounted.

Planning of each days flying activity was rotated between the various nations, who were tasked with organising the overall Combined Air Operations (COMAO.) This was particularly demanding as it involved dovetailing together air superiority, ground attack, combat SAR, aerial refuelling, and reconnaissance into a cohesive and effective process. Furthermore, the JFACC planned the exercise with fluidity to ensure participants derived the maximum benefit from an ever changing scenario. Prior to each days flying activity, the multi-national aircrew attended a mass briefing, where they were tasked with their individual fragment of the operations order, as well as weather details, alternate airfield data, and a host of relative information. There were also surprise hit-and-run tactics against Natal air base by the Red air force A-1A AMX's and Xavantes to contend with. The area of operations was positioned above largely deserted scrub and jungle areas of north eastern Brasil. Positioned close to the Equator, and staged in the austral spring, sunrise was very early each day, with corresponding sunset by 17:30 each afternoon. All sorties were staged during daylight hours, with two missions flown each day during the live operations period. Every fighter sortie received tanker support apart from the Venezuelan F-16s and Uruguayan Pucaras. Aerial tankers operated from Natal (Chilean KB-707) and Recife (Brasilian KC-137 and KC-130H) for the Blue forces, while the Red aircraft were air refuelled by a Brasilian KC-130H stationed at Fortaleza. The Chilean KB-707 was probably making its last appearance at a Cruzex event, as the air arm is about to acquire a pair of surplus USAF Boeing KC-135R Stratotankers, which will be fitted with wing tip pods as well as the traditional flying boom. The dual system will allow tanking for both the F-16s and F-5Es.

Eyes in the Sky

Each sortie package had the benefit of command and communications expertise from the Brasilian Embraer R-99A (currently changing designation to E-99 to more accurately reflect its electronic mission) to monitor all aerial activities. Four of these AWACS systems coordinated all Blue forces missions, directing interceptors to counter attacking red forces. The Red forces utilised the fifth R-99A. The Brasilians are comparatively new to a sophisticated airborne command and control capability, which is primarily employed to monitor the remote Amazon region. The R-99A/E-99 is fitted with the Ericsson PS-890 Erieye phased array radar mounted in a long fairing above the fuselage. The system can detect and track targets at a similar distance to the E-3 Sentry, and has both air and sea capabilities. The three R-99Bs were also used, with two assigned to Redland, and the other to the Blue forces. The R-99B is equipped with a McDonald Dettwiler Integrated Radar Imaging System (IRIS), a synthetic aperture radar housed in an under-fuselage radome, a FLIR Systems AAQ-22 StarSafire forward-looking infra-red, a Daedalus multi-spectral scanner, various COMINT and ELINT systems, and on-board recording and processing equipment. Both the E-99 and the R-99B systems were considered important components in the exercise, as both are reasonably new in Brasilian service.

Natal air base is a vast facility, which has a medium-sized civilian airport, named Augusto Severo, located in one corner. Adjacent to the civilian terminal was the main apron occupying the tankers and AWACS, along with two dozen sun shelters, which normally contain AT-26 Xavantes and A-29 Super Tucanos. The A-29 is fairly new to Natal, as the unit only transitioned in the middle of the decade. Many of the Xavantes were stored on the airfield, along with the A-29s not involved in Cruzex. There were insufficient sun shelters to house all the fighters, resulting in the Pucaras and some AMXs being positioned outside. Many resident aircraft had moved out to make way for the exercise, with the sun shelters looked extremely impressive with noses of AMX, Mirages, F-5s, and F-16s protruding from them in place of the diminutive Xavantes and Super Tucanos. The military facility has no flying curfew restrictions as the adjacent airport handles a steady flow of airliners on a twenty-four hour a day basis, bringing holidaymakers to the glorious beaches in the vicinity of Natal.

The F-5EMs had completed the upgrade programme with the installation of a 'glass' cockpit, a head-up display, cockpit lighting associated with night-vision goggles, and a weapons delivery suite compatible with the latest air to air missiles including the Rafael Python 3 and 4 projectiles. The F-5EM were finished in a dark green and slate pattern, which is gradually being adopted by almost all the tactical elements in the Brasilian Air Force, apart from the Mirages. Making its operational debut at Cruzex IV was the new Brasilian Mirage F-2000. Five F-2000C and a single F-2000B two-seater, based at Anapolis with 1 GDA were amongst the first visitors to arrive at Natal. These have replaced the elderly Mirage IIIBR in the air defence role, and their inclusion in the exercise was in the air superiority role exclusively. The A-1 AMX is the backbone of the ground attack and tactical reconnaissance mission, while the Embraer A-29 is used for light ground attack including interdiction and close-air support.

The benefit of Cruzex extended beyond the advantage derived from mixed flight operations, as all levels of operations were tailored towards NATO-style methods set against a background of planning involving mixed air arms. The value of planning and executing operations with overseas contemporaries, as well as training and exchanging mission techniques, has long been considered invaluable. The training benefits were also extended to ground based air defence personnel to deal with air attack saturation at low and medium altitude. Intelligence personnel were also included in accordance with actual doctrines to improve target procedures and to process damage assessment. Despite Portuguese being the main idiom in Brasil, and the remainder of Latin America speaking Spanish, communicating difficulties were minimised as both languages are understood across the continent. Furthermore English was spoken primarily during flight operations, although this was fairly uncommon within the ground support personnel.

The Overseas Coalition

The overseas contingent carried a variety of markings, with the French Mirages painted in the traditional scheme for their respective roles. The Chilean F-5Es were painted in a light grey scheme, with the national markings of a white star on a dark blue background applied to the rudder. The Venezuelan contingent was much more interesting. All six F-16s were in a Vietnam-war style two-tone green and tan pattern, with a emblem of Grupo Aereo de Caza 16 'Dragones' applied to the tail. However two of the F-16s had an attractive special scheme applied to the tail to denote twenty five years operating the type. The Uruguayan aircraft were painted in a pale grey and dark green camouflage pattern, associated with the counter-insurgency role.

Brasil is a vast country, with all of the overseas participants making refuelling stops, even though some had the assistance of aerial tankers. The Venezuelan and Chilean fighters both had tanker support, as well as a single refuelling and rest stop at Anapolis. The Uruguayan contingent was forced to make three ground stops, as their small air force does not include a tanker capability. In all three cases, the flight to Natal was in excess of 2,000 miles. The French fighter contingent routed from their home bases to Istres, before joining with the C-135FRs tankers for the first leg to Dakar in West Africa. The next stage was completed non-stop to Natal, with each quartet of Mirages accompanied by a tanker. While it may seem a long journey for the French contingent to make, the Armee de l'Air French has a presence at Cayenne-Rochambeau in French Guiana. Furthermore the French aviation industry is anxious to make inroads into the Latin American defence market place, with both new and second hand equipment. The recent sale of a dozen surplus Mirage 2000C/B fighters to Brasil is a perfect example of this sales campaign.

As stated earlier, Natal is a holiday resort which enjoys magnificent beach facilities offering the teams a wonderful area in which to enjoy local amenities during the limited free time. The overseas teams numbered 37 personnel from Argentina (who were limited to observers); 187 from Chile; France 121; 55 from Uruguay; and 166 from Venezuela. Brasil participated with a staggering 1,836 personnel supporting Cruzex, underscoring the importance which their Defence Ministry places upon the exercise. With several new and upgraded aircraft and weapons systems having entered Brasilian service recently, Cruzex was a golden opportunity to evaluate their capabilities and integration. The event enjoyed ideal weather conditions, enabling almost all missions to take place as planned, and without incident. The only down-side was the loss of an H-1H on Friday 14 November, while on a flight from Natal to Fortaleza for a refuelling stop when journeying home to Belem. The helicopter crashed near Aracati, sadly killing the crew of three.

 

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