LAAD 2015: U.S. Presence Down After Rivals Win Contracts

 - April 23, 2015, 11:25 AM
Brazil chose the Swedish Gripen to meet the F-X2 requirement. Embraer will be jointly responsible with Saab for development of the two-seat version of the Gripen NG. (photo: Saab)

The Latin American Aerospace and Defence (LAAD) 2015 exposition in Rio de Janeiro last week saw an increase in exhibitors and attendees. But the U.S. presence was significantly reduced, after American companies failed to capture big defense projects in the region. An emblematic example is Brazil’s own F-X2 fighter competition, in which the Boeing Super Hornet lost to the Saab Gripen NG. At the show, the Swedish company signed an agreement with Embraer for joint management of the F-X2 project.

Although U.S. firms scaled back on their presence at LAAD, other traditional players in this market such as Israel and France—or more recent entrants such as Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—are positioning themselves for the long haul and to establish a permanent presence in the market. Chinese companies are placing staff permanently in either São Paulo, Brazil’s business megalopolis, or in Brasilia, the capital. Russian firms, despite sanctions against them doing business with any entities that have EU or U.S. connections, hired more space than ever at LAAD and are busy hawking air defense systems and infantry weapons to numerous clients.

The agreement between Saab and Embraer confirmed the extensive role for the latter in Gripen NG systems development, integration, flight test, final assembly and aircraft deliveries. This includes joint responsibility for the complete development of the two-seat version. The two companies will build a Gripen engineering center at Embraer’s Gavião Peixoto factory. However, Saab carefully noted that the latest industrial agreement is contingent on the activation of the F-X2 contracts with the Brazilian Aeronautics Command (Portuguese acronym COMAER) that were signed last October. These contracts “will come into effect once certain conditions have been fulfilled [which is] expected... during the first half of 2015,” Saab added.

Brazil has decided to equip its Gripens with a set of almost entirely non-U.S. weaponry and systems. With this in mind, Saab has now taken a 15-stake in Brazilian aeronautical engineering services company Akaer. Last February, Saab announced the extent of its cooperation with Brazilian avionics house AEL Sistemas. AEL will provide the wide-area display (WAD) and the head-up display (HUD). A four-year development and production program has already started in Porto Alegre. The WAD for Brazil’s Gripen NG aircraft is a single intelligent large screen (19 x 8 in) display in full color, with state-of-the-art touchscreen controls capability.

Soon after the show concluded, French company Sagem announced an agreement with Helibras for the local production of 30 autopilot systems for Brazil’s Panther helicopters. The work will be done by Optovac, a full-owned subsidiary of Sagem in São Jose dos Campos. Sagem said that it had been investing in avionics and optronics solutions for Brazil’s armed forces since 2012. Optovac is also producing flight controls and navigation systems for Brazil’s Caracel and Fennec helicopters. Helibras is the Brazilian subsidiary of Airbus Helicopters, which is supplying the majority of Brazil’s rotary-wing needs.