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Brazil's airforce loses out to Venezuela's and Chile's

By Claudio Dantas Sequeira

Originally published on 27 August 2006 | If buying warplanes were like trading in a car, the Lula administration would be a loyal customer of the low mileage used car section. While South American neighbors acquire latest generation aircraft Brazil renews its air force with French Mirage aircraft from the 80ís. The best proof of that was the burial of the F-X program, a USD 700 million international bidding process aimed at buying new supersonic fighters. Launched in 2001, the competition underwent three revisions and ended up being cancelled in 2005. It led to the controversial purchase of 12 Mirage aircraft—with 15 to 20 years of use in the Armée de l’Air (French air force)—, for the bargain of USD 100 million. But the savings, upwards of 80%, began to take its toll in the form of an incalculable political price, as it caused Brazil to lose its absolute air power to Chile and Venezuela. Especially after these countries invested heavily in reequipping their armed forces, by acquiring modern F-16C 50 Block and Su-30MK II fighters respectively.

Felipe Salles, editor of the electronic magazine Base Militar and a specialist in Defense, points out that the 24 Russian combat aircraft acquired by Venezuela are superior to any other aircraft in operational use in the world, and that the ten F-16C/D fighters purchased by Chile had surprised analysts. The military superiority, however, is dependent on the armaments that were acquired. “The U.S. is always reluctant to sell advanced armaments, such as BVR (beyond visual range) missiles and laser guided bombs, within our continent. Probably the Russians do not have such reservations,” he makes a comparison. The Chilean government spent USD 2.76 billion, and the Venezuelans spent USD 2.2 billion. This investment was stimulated by the high price of copper (for Chile ) and of oil (for Venezuela ) on the international market.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian budget item aimed at replacing the fleet hardly reached USD 1.3 billion. For the specialist, the Lula administration needs to ask itself what equipment it wants to provide for its military force. “More than what is reflected in the price of commodities on the world market, the Chilean and Venezuelan purchases demonstrate there are governments who understand the value of adjusting to modern vectors before they sit down at a negotiation table,” he affirms. For Professor Salvador Ghelfi Raza, a specialist in national security at the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington, Brazil is the victim of the logic of the international weapons and defense equipment market.

“It amounts to the burning of supplies together with embedding the transfer of obsolete technology. Meanwhile, developed countries are preparing to launch a new technologic wave of weapons and new methods of detection that are going to deeply modify the forms of combat,” he warns. Raza, who is head of the Department of International Relations at the Campinas (University) Faculties (FACAMP), points out further that there is underway “a revision of the rules of technology transfer” for armaments. “We are spending money in vain, fostering old strategic and military patterns and giving sustenance to the military industry in those countries,” he adds.

Junk Dealer

As anticipated by Correio Braziliense, the first two Mirage 2000C fighters will ply the skies of Brasilia on the forthcoming 7th day of September, Independence Day. They are not the only secondhand acquisitions. During the first half of the year, the Brazilian Air Force confirmed the order for nine Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II supersonic jets, used by the Royal Air Force of Saudi Arabia. They consist of six single seated models and one double seated, which are supposed to integrate the program for modernizing Embraer into the molds of the F-5M. A high source at the General Staff of the Defense Ministry disclosed to the news report the acquisition of six Sikorsky UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters from the U.S. , also used. The first one arrived in Manaus (MU) at the beginning of the month.

Eight Lockheed Orion P-3 aircraft are being refurbished in Spain. The light and efficient ALX Super Tucanos and the reasonable AMX subsonic fighters, both from Embraer, are the exceptions that confirm the rule. Felipe Salles is of the opinion that used combat aircraft are not necessarily old aircraft. “The Gripen JAS-39A/B aircraft from Sweden have few hours of flight and are already up for sale,” he says. On the other hand, “the F-16 aircraft from the USAF (United States Air Force) are quite compromised, after having been used in wars in Iraq , Yugoslavia and Afghanistan .”

Concerning the Mirage 2000C, Salles does not spare any criticisms. “It was a spectacular airplane during the 80’s, but today it is worthless. On the contrary, it interrupts a policy of rationalization within the BAF,” he affirms. He is referring to the development of the same cockpit for the Super Tucano and AMX aircraft, which are used in Brazil and also exported. “The Mirage fighters are different than all the ones we have, and that forces us to invest in a special maintenance infrastructure. Neither the flight electronics nor the missiles are compatible with our fighters,” he added. The final political implications of this process, he warns, will be fully known in a few years.

Purchases Made by Each Country


10 Lockheed-Martin F-16C/D
Country: United States
Maximum Speed: 1900 kph – 1188 mph
Range: 630 km – 394 miles
Weaponry: payload up to 5300 kg (11,660 lbs) for missiles, rockets and bombs
Features: “fire and forget” missiles; radar with 80 km (50 mile) range.


24 SUKHOI Su-30
Country: Russia
Maximum Speed: 2335 kph – 1459 mph
Range: 1500 km – 938 miles
Weaponry: payload up to 8000 kg (17,600 lbs) with missiles, rockets and bombs.
Features: “fire and forget” missiles, radar with 200 km (125 mile) range.


12 Mirage 2000C/B
Country: France/Brazil
Maximum Speed: 2300 kph – 1438 mph
Range: 900 km – 563 miles
Weaponry: payload up to 5900 kg (12,980 lbs)
Features: No “fire and forget” missile capability; radar with 60 km (38 mile) range.

Data furnished by the manufacturers


Translated by W.K.

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