A planned budget increase may kick-start many pending military procurement programmes
It expected a $3.4 billion budget for 2007, but Brazil's ministry of defence could only watch as that sum was unexpectedly trimmed in February to $2.82 billion - exacerbating protracted delays in major defence equipment programmes for all three armed forces. But the disappointment was tempered by news that plans are in hand to increase funding over the next five years to an annual $4.84 billion - of which $3.7 billion would be allotted to the air force within the same period.
With many procurement programmes pending, ranging from fighters to executive transport aircraft, the increase is especially welcome to the air force. Its priority is the acquisition of 12-16 multi-role fighters under a programme preliminarily budgeted at $1.1 billion and which is viewed as a successor to the ill-fated F-X BR fighter procurement programme cancelled in 2005. The ministry of defence says it will not open a bidding process, and the prime contenders are Dassault's Rafale and the Sukhoi Su-35, with the Eurofighter Typhoon a possible third candidate.
The winner of the revived F-X BR fighter contest is expected to replace Embraer-modernised Northrop F-5s
As outlined, the programme foresees the purchase of an initial batch of aircraft, with deliveries from 2012, followed by a further two orders by 2020. The selected aircraft are expected to initially complement recently acquired Dassault Mirage 2000Cs and later replace that type as well as the Northrop F-5EM/FM undergoing modernisation at Embraer.
Another priority will be the long-deferred CH-X heavy helicopter procurement programme. Navigation and radar concerns arising from last year's mid-air collision between a Gol Linhas Aéreas Boeing 737-800 and an Embraer Legacy corporate jet in the Amazon region have led to this being placed on the fast track as the CH-X is a vital element in the SIVAM Amazon radar network. Its role will be to regularly reposition Lockheed Martin TPS-B34 transportable primary radars that are part of the radar network. Four heavylift helicopters able to move the radar equipment to sites throughout region are required, with the Boeing CH-47F and Sikorsky CH-53E prime contenders, although the ministry of defence has shown a preference for the Rostvertol Mi-26TM, with an eye on a larger package deal that could see adoption of the Mi-17 as the standard medium-lift helicopter for all three services in lieu of the Eurocopter Cougar - as well as the purchase of Mi-35M gunships for the army.
With the last few BAe 125 corporate jets employed on governmental transport tasks phased out of service, the ministry of defence has replaced them with four Embraer EMB-145s. Meanwhile, the air force has identified a short-term requirement for 12 smaller corporate jets for governmental and staff liaison duties. Preliminary studies are pointing towards the acquisition of four EMB-135BJ Legacy corporate jets and eight Embraer Phenom 300 light jets to address that need.
The air force is also set on acquiring further batches of Cessna 208B Grand Caravans to enhance its short-range transport needs in the Amazon region. But a pending requirement dating from 1998 to replace the service's four Boeing KC-137 air refuelling tankers is expected to be further delayed well past 2012.
Another transport aircraft requirement involves the $325 million CT-X programme, which covers an initial purchase of 50 EADS Casa C-212-400s as replacements for the air force's ageing Embraer C-95 Bandeirante fleet. A C-212 assembly line is forecast to be opened at the air force's São Paulo air maintenance centre, with the first aircraft expected to be delivered next year.
With deliveries of C-295 tactical transports under way since last October, the other EADS Casa programme - involving the overhaul and modernisation of nine Lockheed Martin P-3A maritime surveillance aircraft to P-3BR standards - was initiated early last year after the first two aircraft were ferried to EADS Casa's site at Getafe in Spain.
The Brazilian air force expects to receive the first modernised airframe in December 2008 and is seeking a replacement for its 20 Embraer P-95A/B maritime surveillance aircraft. Although it does not foresee that aircraft's retirement before 2015, the service has examined the EMB-135 and EMB-145 as replacement candidates to complement the P-3BRs.
The air force is expected this year to start outlining a replacement for the Neiva T-25 primary/basic trainer. With a requirement for roughly 80 units, locally built alternatives such as Aeromot's AMT-600 Guri have been examined, but it is understood that the air force intends to examine options from abroad.
Meanwhile, the Brazilian navy is gradually retiring its Sikorsky SH-3D anti-submarine warfare helicopters. Although the purchase of six Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawks has received preliminary US approval, budgetary priorities may see the Sea Kings soldiering on until the end of the decade. Moreover, the $66 million modernisation of 12 McDonnell Douglas A/TA-4KU Skyhawks to a standard similar to that of the air force's F-5EM/FM upgrade under way at Embraer has been delayed, although a decision is expected by early next year.