Brazil, with US SOUTHCOM, conducts military simulations near Venezuelan border

Photo by Leanne Thomas

Translated by Araby Smyth

On September 2 in the northern Brazilian states of Amazonas, Roraima Acre and Rondonia, more than 3,600 Brazilian soldiers were deployed to carry out a military simulation in a jungle operating environment. To conduct the drill, the Brazilian army divided the states into two countries, “red and blue.” The objective of the operation: for the blue country to recover the region controlled by the red country. In this case, the two countries correspond to the states of Amazonas and Roraima, which border Venezuela.

The military maneuvers utilized included paratroopers, offensive and defensive land actions, anti-aircraft operations, river traffic control, and airspace coordination. According to General Teóphilo Gazpar, it was a joint effort seeking to “test the interoperability of work between three forces: the army, air force and the navy”—in other words, for the branches of the Brazilian Armed Forces to exchange and make use of information.

The main objective of this military drill, outlined in the theatre of operations, was an offensive by the blue country to expel hypothetical “red country” invaders and create a security zone in enemy territory in order to prepare conditions for future peace negotiations.

Troops from several parts of Brazil participated in these exercises, but primarily six Military Commands from the Amazon region, including the Amazon Military Command. The 23rd Marabá Infantry Brigade from the Northern Military Command in the state of Parabá took part as well. According to General José Carlos de Nardi, “Operation Amazon,” as the strategy is called, is being carried out because of the importance of the region. “For us the Amazon is a priority for Brazil, therefore, we consider this operation to be a great success,” explained the General.

An opportunity to test artillery

During the exercise, tests were carried out on a wide range of weapons systems including tanks, land vehicles, aircraft, naval ships, and artillery. The military conducted target practice with a multiple rocket launcher system called ASTROS 2020, the most powerful deterrent weapon in the Brazilian armed forces, which has the capacity to fire 190 rockets in 16 seconds.

With the use of this artillery, this drill concludes the ASTROS 2020 Strategic Program, which created a set of rockets, called the SS80, SS60, SS40, and SS30. The program was run by an alliance between the Brazilian armed forces and the Federal University of Santa María, in Río Grande do Sul. When it concluded, it was handed over to the private company Avibras, currently in charge of manufacturing and marketing.

This type of artillery is currently exported to countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East as Astros MK3, MK6, and MK3-M, with ranges of 30, 80, and up to 300 kilometers. The shorter ranged rockets can destroy within a radius of 16 kilometers.

Avibras has been developing this missile and rocket system since the 1980s. With the design and manufacture of the MTC-300, with a range of 300 kilometers, Brazil is now one of seven nations that possesses this technology, according to information from the company. This destructive weapon has precise GPS accuracy and an electronic optic sensor that guides it on the ground, according to established coordinates.

“They were the first tests with the multiple ASTROS launcher systems in an Amazonian environment. The military exercise is part of Operation Amazon, a war simulation in a jungle setting. In addition to the ASTROS rockets, the actual firing mission involved firing the anti-aircraft missiles RBS-70 and IGLA-S,” announced the Brazilian Army High Command.

Operation Amazon was scheduled to end on September 23rd, when all of the troops arrived at their destinations. This army mission in the Amazon was, according to an official army site, to “defend the homeland and guarantee national sovereignty. As the Amazon is one of the National Defense priorities, the exercise, which brought together the existing resources in the Amazon Military Command with the support of the Air Force, as well as the Artillery with the Astros System and a series of combat systems, was excellent.”

Amazonian Sovereignty

Brazilian sovereignty, especially in the Amazon region, is also of interest to the United States. Top officers of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) were present at all of the exercises carried out during the simulation. Military personnel of note included U.S. Army Reserve Major Jeffrey Daley; Close Air Support and Army Operations Officer Robert Santamaria; and Joint Task Force Colonel Tito Villanueva, who operates military installations in Honduras, among others.

According to U.S. Army South, a component command of SOUTHCOM, the military personnel mentioned above were only present as observers. “Army South personnel observed the Brazilian military operation to prepare for future bilateral training opportunities, such as Southern Vanguard. Our defense partnerships are vital to security and prosperity in the hemisphere and to our collective ability to meet complex global challenges,” announced Army South.

The presence of leading military personnel in this simulation corresponds to what Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of Army South stated in a videoconference on October 5: “The main mission of U.S. SOUTHCOM is to defend the United States. That’s primarily accomplished through working with partners,” said Faller, referring to Brazil, Colombia and Chile as particularly “stalwart” partners.

Faller also specified that “enhancing military capacities in the region can take various forms, including bilateral and multilateral exercises, which increase interoperability, sharing intelligence and inviting members of the military to share military education opportunities.”

A U.S. Congressional service research report (#R46236), from July 6, titled Brazil: Background and U.S. Relations, states that the Trump Administration has seen a new opportunity to deepen the bilateral relation with the President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro. “Bolsonaro has begun to shift Brazil’s foreign policy to bring the country into closer alignment with the United States, and President Trump has designated Brazil a major non-NATO ally,” states the document.

According to U.S. Congress, the objective is to strengthen these relations. “Environmental conservation has been a major focus, with Congress appropriating $15 million for foreign assistance programs in the Brazilian Amazon, including $5 million to address fires in the region,” states the 2020 Further Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L.116-94).

The report also affirms that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is conducting coordinated activities through the Brazil-US Alliance, for the Partnership for the Conservation of Amazon Biodiversity (PCAB), since 2014. Not only are government agencies represented in this alliance, but private sector businesses and non-governmental organizations that impact the administration of protected areas and promotion of sustainable development in the Amazon are included as well.

USAID affirms that it “works with indigenous and quilombola communities to strengthen their capacities to manage their resources and improve their livelihoods. USAID also supports the private sector-led Partnership Platform for the Amazon, which facilitates private investment in innovative conservation and sustainable development activities.”

In 2019, USAID promoted the creation of the Althelia Biodiversity Fund, a Brazilian fund with the objective to raise $100 million dollars of private capital to invest in the region.

The presence of the United States in this region is not new, nor is its participation in military drills. But its presence in the Amazon is increasing, to create what U.S. Congress calls “sustainable value chains.” The embassy, USAID, U.S. Forest Service, NGOs, NASA, and the military have all been involved.



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