Base Aérea de Natal, Rio Grande do Norte – Brasil
Since its introduction in 2002, the Força Aerea Brasileira (FAB) has hosted one of the largest multinational and joint air combat exercises in South America – Cruzeiro do Sul Exercise, or CRUZEX as it’s better known… However due to the nation hosting the Confederations Cup, World Cup and Olympics within the last five years, CRUZEX was postponed after the 2013 edition so national resources could be refocused into these major world events. Thankfully, 2018 saw the exercise rise again so AIA travelled to Natal on the East Coast of Brazil to provide coverage:
Taking place from the 18th to 30th November, up to 100 aircraft from Brazil, Canada, Chile, France, Peru, The United States and Uruguay plus additional personnel from Bolivia, Germany, India, Portugal, Sweden and Venezuela came together to participate out of Base Aérea de Natal. The primary aim of CRUZEX was to provide joint training of conflict scenarios and promote exchange of experiences among participating countries. “CRUZEX allows the exchange of operational skills. In addition to strengthening ties between countries, it makes it possible to aggregate knowledge of other nations with experiences in joint action scenarios” explained Major-General Luiz Guilherme Silveira de Medeiros, Director of CRUZEX, Brazilian Air Force.
Since CRUZEX’s inception, it’s continued to grow into a full-scale air combat exercise designed to train pilots and personnel in the planning of Combined Air Operations (COMAOs). The exercise reinforces and installs air tactics, techniques and procedures enabling multiple forces from different nations to operate together. Base Aérea de Natal is an ideal location to launch this style of operation, with a multitude of airspace available over the state of Rio Grande do Norte and over the Atlantic Ocean, plus if needed airspace over neighbouring states can be made available. Major-General Medeiros reiterated CRUZEX is the largest joint exercise in South America, and commented: “We want to learn a little more and improve our operational capacity. We need to incorporate new procedures, techniques and tactics, because the idea of our Commander is that we integrate troops”.
Much of the flying activity/missions were centred on the town of Maxaranguape, 40 miles northwest of Natal where it was estimated between 1,200 to 1,300 flight hours were flown. During the two week period, all exercise operations were conducted under simulated circumstances consequently meaning no ‘live’ weapons were used.
Besides the aims, additional objectives of CRUZEX were to train in conventional and unconventional warfare scenarios. Conventional scenarios saw COMAOs where a package of 40 to 50 aircraft departed in sequence to carry out missions with common or complementary objectives. Unconventional scenarios concentrated on combat centred around insurgent or paramilitary forces as opposed to between two constituted States. The unconventional scenario is a new development for CRUZEX 2018, as previously much of the exercise had been set up to train solely in conventional warfare. The change in exercise direction, or better put; the added unconventional warfare scenarios have been introduced by the FAB with a want to be able to integrate into modern multinational task forces where such situations have become common. This is an area of combat the FAB are not so familiar with, but the likes of NATO or the UN has been undertaking such peacekeeping operations like this for some time.
An obvious indicator of this change in focus could be seen in the aircraft participating. Unlike previous editions where only fighter were aircraft involved, 2018 saw rotary and transport aircraft alongside army and navy assets, not to mention the inclusion of Special Forces personnel. Major-General Medeiros outlined the importance of the unconventional scenario lies in the possibility of sending Brazilian aircraft to integrate into UN missions. “If it happens, we need to be prepared. CRUZEX will allow Brazilians to train with foreign militaries who already performed this kind of mission in North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s context”.
Participating nations contributed the following air assets to CRUZEX:
Brazil (70+ aircraft)
- AMX International AMX A-11 Ghibli (A-1A/A-1M/A-1BM/RA-1)
- EADS CASA C-295M (C-105/SC-105)
- Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano (A-29B)
- Embraer EMB-145 (E-99/R-99)
- Eurocopter EC725 Caracal (H-36)
- Douglas A-4 Skyhawk (A-4)
- Lockheed C-130 Hercules (C-130E/C-130H/KC-130H)
- Northrop F-5M Tiger II (F-5EM/F-5FM)
- 2x Lockheed CC-130J Hercules (436 Transport Squadron, CFB Trenton)
- 1x Boeing KC-135E Stratotanker (Grupo de Aviación Nº 10, Santiago)
- 5x Lockheed Martin F-16AM Fighting Falcon (Grupo de Aviación Nº7, Antofagasta)
- 1x CASA CN-235M (L’escadron de transport 1/62 Vercors, Évreux-Fauville)
- 4x Cessna A-37B Dragonfly (Grupo Aéreo 7, Piura)
- 4x Dassault Mirage 2000P (Grupo Aéreo 4, La Joya)
- 1x Boeing KC-135R Stratotanker (141st Air Refuelling Wing, Washington Air National Guard)
- 4x Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon (149th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard)
- 4x Cessna A-37B Dragonfly (Escuadrón Aéreo N°2 Caza, Durazno)
The History of CRUZEX
The concept of CRUZEX was born in the early 2000’s following members of the FAB attending a French led air exercise and observing a scenario which simulated an armed conflict between two nations. In the scenario, the intervention of a peacekeeping force was necessary to bring the conflict to a close and impose a ceasefire. At the time this type of conflict was common as demonstrated in the Gulf and Balkan regions initiating the Brazilian Air Force to prepare itself for a possible commitment to such an event. As a result of the findings from the FAB’s observer delegation, knowledge and lessons were brought back to Brazil and preparations began to host an exercise of their own.
After months of planning and preparation, Cruzeiro do Sul Exercise saw its birth in 2002 at the Southern location of Canoes Air Base with Argentina and France participating alongside Brazil. Chile sent a small delegation of officials to observe. The focus of the first iteration was based on a conflict like the 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait. It was designed to test the command and control structure and joint planning of combat missions. It marked the first time NATO procedures were adopted in a South American air exercise and was considered a success paving way for the exercise to grow.
Two years later and CRUZEX II took place looking to expand on the experiences of 2002. Staged this time at Natal Air Base, the second edition alongside Brazil included participation once again from Argentina and France with Venezuela attending for the first time. Present as observers were Peru, South Africa and Uruguay. The exercise replicated a low intensity air campaign between two countries, Green and Yellow, fighting over an area rich in mineral resources.
2006 this time at Annapolis Air Base, the third edition of CRUZEX kicked off. As with previous years, the exercise was based on a UN controlled conflict featuring three fictitious nations: the aggressor Red Land, which had invaded its ex-territory Yellow Land, and Blue Land fighting in support of Yellow Land to push the Red Forces out. Participating nations included the host Brazil along with Argentina, Chile, France, Uruguay and Venezuela. Present as observes were officials from Bolivia, Columbia and Paraguay. The Peruvian Air Force had intended to be present, however tragically one of its A-37B aircraft crashed on route to CRUZEX III meaning an understandable cancellation.
The fourth edition of CRUZEX returned to Natal Air Base in 2008, which from that point on became the fixed home of the exercise. Aside from Brazil, participants arrived from previous attendees Chile, France, Uruguay and Venezuela. Argentina was also due to return, but unfortunately took the decision to withdraw shortly before the exercise began. Observing the exercise this time were delegations from Bolivia, Canada, Columbia, Ecuador, Great Britain, Peru and Paraguay. The scenario for the two week period followed the same structure as CRUZEX III, a simulated low intensity air campaign within the constraints imposed by peacetime regulations and safety issues.
In 2010 and as a result of Brazil participating in the famous Red Flag exercise, CRUZEX V saw the first participation from the US Air Force. Taking the knowledge gained from Red Flag 08-3, the FAB continued to operate the structure and scenarios from previous editions of CRUZEX whilst implementing experiences gained elsewhere. Also present were the Air Forces of Argentina, Chile, France and Uruguay with observing teams from Bolivia, Ecuador, Canada, Columbia, Great Britain and Paraguay. Interestingly for 2010, France attended for the first time with their Dassault Rafale alongside the Mirage 2000; the importance being Brazil were in the market to replace their own Mirage 2000s and the Rafale appearing as an appealing contender.
The Sixth edition of CRUZEX in 2012 saw a bit of a change to the normal, whereby a two week flying based exercise did not occur, but a fully Command and Control focused Symposium/Conference took place instead. It transpired that the 2012 event took place very much in preparation for the following year, although CRUZEX C2 as it was named saw the highest number of participating nations to date: Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Ecuador, United States, France, United Kingdom, Peru, Sweden, Uruguay and Venezuela all being present with Portugal the sole observer.
Prior to 2018, the last iteration of CRUZEX took place in 2013 with approximately 100 aircraft. Active participants included those from; Brazil, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Ecuador, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela. Much like 2008, sadly Argentina cancelled their participation at very short notice. Next to the fixed wing aircraft and the usual Search and Rescue/Combat Search and Rescue (SAR/CSAR) helicopter force, Brazil introduced the participation of three AH-2 Sabre Mi-35 Hinds acting in the Special Operations Combat Search and Rescue role. Fictitious scenarios were created to prepare for potential events as previously witnessed across the world such as peacekeeping and stability operations, supporting civilian authorities during humanitarian response operations and assisting coalition neighbours in the aftermath of a natural disaster. In addition specific mission sets were prepared incorporating CSAR, aerial refuelling and COMAOs focused on interoperability.
Following a five year hiatus, much of the established staff and experience gained from previous concurrent editions had understandably been lost with many key personnel moving on during the down period. Major-General Luiz Guilherme Silveira de Medeiros, Director of CRUZEX, explained that unfortunately as a result of the lost experience, CRUZEX 2018 was like starting the whole exercise from scratch, having to learn on the job as it were.
A number of regular nations who attend with aircraft were absent such as Argentina, Columbia, Ecuador and Venezuela which of course the FAB would have loved to participate, none the less the Brazilians and all other participants deemed the exercise a resounding success paving way for other nations to join and build on during the next edition. It was great to have the Peruvian Air Force send aircraft for the first time following the tragic cancelled attempt in 2006, with no less than two aircraft types covering different roles during the two week duration.
AIA were told the hope was to see CRUZEX return as a biannual exercise, with a will to make the next edition occur in 2020 once again in Natal. We look forward to seeing how things develop and would love to make a return for such a unique opportunity to see so many South American nations exercise in one place.