In approximately six months, a stretch of 650 kilometers of the Brazil-Paraguay border is set to have a sophisticated surveillance system. This is the Brazilian Army’s expected completion date for the first phase of the Integrated Border Monitoring System (Sisfron) to be 100 percent operational.
As one of the leading Armed Forces programs currently underway, Sisfron will use an integrated network of cameras, sensors, and communication systems to provide real-time detection and reporting of physical movement on Brazil’s land border.
The goal of the system, regarded by specialists as an important incentive to domestic industry, is to allow federal and state defense and security agencies to curb illicit acts such as arms and drug trafficking, contraband, cargo, and vehicle theft, environmental crimes, and border conflicts.[restricted]
The monitoring system will eventually reach across the 16,886 km that make up Brazil’s borders with its 10 neighboring countries. Once completed, it will provide surveillance on an area of 2,553,000 sq km (27 percent of Brazil), reaching 570 municipalities across 11 states, from Amapá to Rio Grande do Sul. The system was projected in 2011 and the federal government initially planned to invest BRL 12 billion over 10 years to complete the undertaking by 2022. Currently, works are underway in accordance with budgetary restraints, and the deadline for completion has been pushed back. Work is expected to be finished in the middle of the next decade.
The difficulty in constructing a surveillance system such as this comes down to its complexity. One of the characteristics of the Brazilian border is its geographical diversity. There are parts of dense forests and sweeping rivers, but also urban areas, where the border line is marked by a simple street, with isolated paths easily transformed into routes for trafficking and contraband. Brigadier General Sérgio Luiz Goulart Duarte, who oversees the Sisfron program, believes that this diversity demands technological monitoring and communication solutions which adapt to the characteristics of each locale, and the operational capacity of the country’s several military commands.
Currently, Brazilian border surveillance is carried out by the Federal Police at its legal outposts, alongside respective regional military commands. This will not change. Surveillance missions are carried out on routine sweeps or motivated by information and evidence gathered sporadically. With Sisfron, a series of electronic resources will collect and transmit this data continuously, allowing for an immediate response.
The basis for Sisfron, both as an idea and a system, dates back to the Amazon Surveillance System (Sivam) and the Amazon Protection System (Sipam), projects put in place in the 2000s and geared toward the monitoring of the Amazonian region. The capacity of Brazilian companies and institutions to project a system of Sisfron’s size, according to specialists, is largely the result of the country having taken part in the development of Sivam alongside manufacturer Raytheon.
The company Savis Tecnologia e Sistemas, from the Embraer Defesa & Segurança group, is the integrator of the first phase of the program. In other words, it is responsible for the technological convergence and management of several suppliers. “We are using the full capacity of Embraer in aerial systems engineering to create a land defense system,” said Savis CEO, Nilson Santin.
The technological architecture of Sisfron is the same as that used by countries such as the U.S., Russia, Israel, and Germany in protecting their land borders, with the difference that the Brazilian system is the first large-scale system currently being implemented. “It is an advanced system, which opens up market opportunities for Savis and the suppliers involved in the project,” said Mr. Santin. The potential target for Savis and other companies involved are countries which do not have a structured defense industry.
One demand of the Brazilian Army is to reach the maximum level of nationalization possible with equipment of Sisfron: the participation of local content, therefore, is around 75 percent. Savis, along with Embraer, is responsible for developing some of the principal monitoring equipment, such as the hardware of Mage/Comint (Electronic Warfare Support Measures/Communications Intelligence) sensors, which work with software from German company Saab Medav. Mage/Comint is a system of capturing electromagnetic signals which tracks communication via radio, extensively used in electronic warfare.
Another development, which is completely Brazilian, is the Sentir-M20 radar, which is able to detect a person crawling 2 km away, walking 10 km away, and a bulletproof vehicle 30 km away. As explained by Fabio Caparica, executive director of Savis, the integration of systems allows for Sentir-M20 to detect a target and activate a camera, which will then follow the individual or vehicle. The information transmitted in real time to the command center allows for the identification of the target and decision making.
A subsidiary of Israeli company Elbit, AEL Sistemas, from the southern city of Porto Alegre, is the supplier of optronic equipment for Sisfron, such as multisensor cameras with night and day vision, heat sensors, and night-vision systems. Sergio Horta, CEO of AEL, explained that the components and parts of the equipment are made in Israel, while the Brazilian subsidiary is in charge of assembly, integration, and maintenance. “The idea is that, at the end of the installation cycle, Brazil will keep the sensors running, regardless of the external supply of technical assistance or components,” he said.
The cryptography and authentication systems used by Sisfron are also Brazilian products. CommGuard is a platform developed by Kryptus Segurança da Informação with the support of the São Paulo Research Foundation (Fapesp). Roberto Gallo, CEO of Kryptus, believes it is essential for a defense system to adopt domestic solutions to ensure communications security.
Mr. Gallo mentions that some of the systems sold by companies from other countries include embedded mechanisms to allow for the interception of communication or access to data, either by legal determination or orientation of government. Therefore, foreign authorities may have access to sensitive information. “A defense monitoring system with breached confidentiality loses its strategic value, it may become useless,” he stated.
Professors Héctor Luis Saint-Pierre and Samuel Alves Soares, members of the Group of Defense and International Security Studies (Gedes) are skeptical of the effectiveness of Sisfron in combating border crime. “There is a fascination for technology over strategy,” said Mr. Soares, who is also coordinator of the San Tiago Dantas Inter-Institutional International Relations Post-Graduate Program.
According to the researcher, public investment in defense technology is slow and limited by budgetary availability. “The technology, therefore, is available on the market for those who have money, and the traffickers [have money], they can hire systems which breach the technological structures adopted and recruit people trained by the Army, former soldiers, to obtain information and develop alternative routes,” Mr. Soares stressed.
According to Mr. Saint-Pierre, the land trafficking of arms, drugs, and contraband mainly occurs on traditional border crossings, in which there are infrastructure and logistics in place, as opposed to isolated places. “This can be combatted with intelligence and international cooperation,” he declared. In his view, more than new technologies, it is more effective to know in advance where illicit merchandise will be transported, who the facilitating public agents are, and how funds are transferred to finance the operation.
General Duarte, the manager of Sisfron, states that the system does not substitute the need for intelligence work at traditional border crossings. Its function is to curb the use of alternative routes over conventional points, which are already under surveillance by public security agencies. According to the military general, in 2016, when it was in partial operation, Sisfron allowed for the seizure of 133 tons of drugs, cigarettes, firearms, and ammunition on alternative border crossings in Mato Grosso do Sul. In 2018, 204 tons were apprehended. “The ideal situation would be to extend Sisfron as quick as possible over the entire border,” he said.
The implementation of the Sisfron is advancing at a snail’s pace. When the project was designed, the average annual spending forecast for implementation for BRL 1.2 billion. However, since the beginning of the project in 2011, an average of BRL 204 million were invested per year. In 2019, BRL 310 million was projected to be spent, but after budget cuts, only BRL 220 million was made available. “We are carrying out the project in accordance with what is released by the government,” said General Duarte. The current timetable foresees the conclusion of Sisfron in 2035, when the state of Amapá will be integrated as part of the system.
Phase 1 began implementation in 2015 and is currently operating at 90 percent, still missing the integration of remote areas which rely on satellite communication for the transmission of data to control and command centers in the cities of Dourados and Campo Grande. General Duarte believes this hurdle will be overcome after the end of negotiations currently in progress for the use of the Geostationary Defense and Strategic Communications Satellite (SGDC-1), controlled by Telebrás and the Ministry of Defense.
According to Roberto Gallo, who also presides over the Brazilian Association of the Defense and Security Materials Industry (Abimde), budgetary restrictions do not mean that Sisfron will be technologically obsolete once completed, as the most up-to-date versions of equipment are purchased at each implementation phase. Furthermore, he highlighted that defense technology is developed to be relevant for decades, and is generally ten years ahead of solutions available on the civil market, so that it cannot be easily breached by traffickers, smugglers, and other criminals working on the border areas.
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