Flat LAAD Show Reflects Brazil's Economic and Political Woes

 - April 12, 2017, 2:19 PM
A Gripen mockup attracted plenty of attention at the LAAD show in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Reuben F. Johnson)

Not surprisingly after Brazil’s recent economic and political woes, only one piece of significant news emerged from the Latin American Aerospace and Defense (LAAD) show in Rio de Janeiro last week. The Brazilian National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES) will offer defense export credits for terms of up to 25 years, which should help Embraer’s sales effort for the KC-390 airlifter and other products. Embraer reconfirmed that deliveries of the KC-390 to the Brazilian air force will not start until 2018 with two aircraft, followed by the next three in 2019.

Meanwhile, Saab officials said that the Gripen E/F sale to Brazil, which involves some co-development, remains on track, despite the country’s troubles. Mikael Franzén, who heads Saab’s Gripen cooperation with Brazil, confirmed that the split between single-seat E-models and two-seat F-models in the country’s order for 36, is 28 and eight, respectively. He confirmed that development of the F-model is now under way in Brazil, and announced extended cooperation with a number of Brazilian companies. Saab also revealed a full-scale redesign of its RBS15 Mk3 anti-ship missile. The new variant will have a new seeker and a much lighter composite structure resulting in an increase in range. It will also be more ECM-resistant.

During the show, IHS Janes reported that Embraer will modernize only 14 Brazilian air force AMX strike aircraft, compared to the 43 originally envisioned. This upgrade contract has been long delayed. The news could aid Saab’s chances of selling more Gripens; Brazilian air force officials have previously expressed a desire to buy more than 100 of the Swedish jets.

Brazilian company Avionics Services displayed the Caçador UAV, which is based on the IAI Heron 1. More than 60 percent of this UAV is made from Brazilian components. But although it has received approval from the Brazilian Ministry of Defense as a “strategic defense product,” it has not been ordered. The Brazilian federal police fly two Heron 1s that were obtained directly from Israel. Brazil Aircraft, another Brazilian company, made its debut at LAAD with the Falco 170 target drone that serves the Brazilian army and navy. The company also showed the smaller Delta Eclipse target drone and said it is developing a UAV for the ISR mission.

PZL Mielec, the Polish company that is now owned by Sikorsky, demonstrated the M28 STOL twin turboprop, which is on a tour of Latin America. Leonardo presented the AW139 helicopter, which is already in use with the Brazilian federal police. Airbus Helicopters’ partner Helibras exhibited the AS550 Fennec and the AS365 Panthers K2 as modernized for the Brazilian army, as well as the Armada’s H225M manufactured in Brazil and equipped with the new Exocet AM 39 B2M2 missiles.

While visisting LAAD, Rosoboronexport deputy CEO Segei Ladygin told the Russian TASS news agency that "Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Uruguay and Argentina can be mentioned among the countries that are considering buying Russian fighter planes." He made no acknowledgement of near-bankruptcy of some of these countries. Another Russian official said that Argentina wants to buy MiG-29s.

Nations in this region have long struggled to acquire the economic stability necessary to support modern military establishments. Many of them have survived for decades with fleets of aging aircraft and other legacy platforms that are getting past their useful service life, which has sparked a medium-sized rise in defense spending in the region. However, the continued uneven economic performance in the region still results in countries doing more window-shopping than anything else.

Nevertheless, an array of Chinese, Israeli and Russian enterprises are searching for opportunities in Brazil and elsewhere. “The common thread among these companies is that they are looking for a niche in those places where U.S. weapons are not likely to be approved for sale by the US Congress, or they are simply not affordable,” said a Brazil-based defense analyst.