Work is proceeding quickly on installing an advanced electronic surveillance system in Brazil's vast Amazon basin to monitor activities ranging from air traffic control and drug trafficking to changes in water quality. The $1.4 billion System for the Vigilance of the Amazon (SIVAM) is scheduled to be in place and ready to operate next year.
At a military airport in Manaus, a forklift wheels huge boxes of equipment onto the tarmac where a large cargo plane stands waiting. The plane will carry the equipment parts for a mobile radar station to a remote jungle outpost where it will be assembled and mounted.
The mobile radar station will be among the key installations that will form part of Brazil's electronic surveillance system known as SIVAM. The U.S. company Raytheon is providing most of the equipment and financing for the SIVAM project. These include radars, air traffic control equipment, various kinds of sensors, and specialized computer software.
Right now, there are only five air traffic control radars in the Brazilian Amazon, leaving vast tracts of land unmonitored.
Flying over the Amazon right now is like flying over the Pacific ocean," said Charles Fairman who is in charge of Raytheon's operations in Manaus. "Under the SIVAM program, Raytheon is delivering and installing 20 additional radars. These will be integrated with the existing five radars into a state of the art air traffic and control center here in Manaus. We've already completed the installation and testing of four of these radars, which effectively increases the coverage by 80 percent."
Improved air traffic control is one of the main reasons Brazil decided to go ahead with the SIVAM project. But the main reason is security. SIVAM is a Brazilian military project, and will be run by the military.
Former Air Force Minister, retired Brigadier Mauro Jose Miranda Gandra, says curbing illegal activities was the prime motivation when the SIVAM project was being planned in the early 1990s. "Brazil is surrounded by friendly countries," he said. "Here we don't have border disputes or religious or ethnic problems. But the actions by drug smugglers, and the arms traffickers who work hand in hand with each other, are the big worries for Brazil. Because of this, a discussion began over how to use the armed forces to combat these criminal organizations, which are extra-territorial, international criminal organizations."
When it is fully operational, the SIVAM system will be able to detect low flying aircraft piloted by drug traffickers, not only by the ground radars but from planes. The Raytheon company is providing the surveillance equipment that will be used on the Brazilian-built planes that will routinely fly missions over the Amazon jungle.
SIVAM's regional superintendent in Manaus, Air Force Colonel Carlos Jose Polhuber, says authorities already know that drug flights are common near the Brazilian border with Peru and Colombia. "There's a great deal of trafficking underway that is being monitored, going in the direction of south to north, that is from Peru to Colombia, and crossing our western border," he said. "We know this from the radar stations already installed in the region. We can see what is going on, but for now we don't have the means to stop this."
But drug traffickers will have a much harder time after August 2002, when SIVAM is scheduled to begin operating at full capacity. Three regional centers will be set up in Manau, Belem and Porto Velho to gather the information provided by the radars, planes and other monitoring equipment.
Along with drug trafficking, the SIVAM system will be capable of detecting other activities, such as illegal logging and mining. Water sensors will pick up changes in water quality that would indicate pollution from mining.
Colonel Polhuber says the SIVAM system will provide immediate warnings. "All this information will be transmitted in real time to the control centers," he said. "The centers will have the software that can interpret this information and give automatic warnings. It will not be necessary for someone to compare previous data or to look at pictures to compare the situation, the software will automatically alert the centers that something bad is going on like illegal mining or illegal logging."
However, SIVAM will act only as a clearinghouse for the information, gathering it and distributing it to various government agencies. It will not undertake any enforcement actions. This will be up to the various Brazilian agencies to take whatever action is necessary.