Thales radars against traffickers

Drug traffickers, mafiosi and smugglers beware. Thales and Bolivia are keeping an eye on you. La Paz and defence electronics giant Thales on 23 August ratified the final contract for an integrated air defence and civil air traffic management (ATM) programme. The final contract is worth €191M, slightly more than the €185M announced in November 2015 when the preliminary contract was signed.



Le réseau Sidacta protégera et surveillera l'espace aérien bolivien (Crédit photo: Thales)

Thales radars will watch over and protect Bolivian airspace. (Photo credit: Thales)


Le GM400 de Thales, élément potentiel du réseau Sidacta bolivien (Crédit photo: ThalesRaytheonSystems)

Thales’s GM400 could be part of the Bolivian ATM network (Photo credit: ThalesRaytheonSystems)

According to the terms of the final contract, Thales will install 13 radars on 12 different sites between now and March 2019: four air defence radars, one Star2000 primary surveillance radar, two TRAC approach radars and six RSM970 secondary radars. The civilian radars will be set up on Bolivian airfields whilst the military ones will be deployed in strategic locations, primarily the Amazon region, the centre and the south of the country. Although no details have filtered concerning the four military radars, La Paz is likely to have opted for the Ground Master family, the biggest one of which – the GM400 – has a detection range of 470km.


The radar [system] will obviously help us control illegal activities such as smuggling and drug trafficking, but will also serve to control our national parks [and] ensure our sovereignty over our own air space and that is an historic act,” Bolivian President Evo Morales stated after the final contract had been signed.


Sidacta soutiendra les hélicoptères Super Puma boliviens dans leur lutte contre les narcotraficants (Crédit photo: Airbus Helicopters)

The ATM will support Bolivia’s Super Puma helicopters to control drug trafficking. (Photo credit: Airbus Helicopters)

Bolivia’s isolated mountains are the theatre for an incessant ballet of small, clandestine aircraft delivering cocaine from the world’s largest producer, Peru, to one of its greatest consumers, Brazil. Bolivia has pledged to increase surveillance of its national parks where most of the local cocaine production (almost 150 tonnes a year) is found.

The first civilian radar will be installed within the next six months in La Paz at the world’s highest altitude international airport: El Alto sits at 4,050m. The ATM system will be operated from a new operations centre based in Cochabamba which should be operational next year. This centre “will house the TopSky-ATC […] and the state-of-the-art SkyView air C4I system, to deliver a single integrated air picture and common situation awareness for defence air operations,” Thales explained in November 2015.

Aéroport El Alto à La Paz, Bolivie

El Alto airport in La Paz, Bolivia