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Brazil to double air fleet as part of $10.6 billion investment

SAO PAULO — Brazil plans to invest 52.8 billion reals (U.S. $10.6 billion) for research, development and equipment acquisition efforts for its military, including nearly doubling the size of its Gripen fighter fleet and financing projects by local aircraft manufacturer Embraer for aerial refueling planes, the government announced earlier this month.

The measure, revealed Aug. 11, is part of the government’s Growth Acceleration Program, or PAC, established by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. PAC guided programs during his first two terms in office, which lasted from 2002 to 2010, and there are now plans for the overarching initiative to spend 1.7 trillion reals, with defense a key area of focus.

“Equipping the Armed Forces with cutting-edge technologies, enhancing national defense capability, and border monitoring are some of the guidelines of the New PAC,” according to a government website.

The government intends to invest 27.8 billion reals by 2026, and an additional 25 billion reals after that period, without a specific deadline.

The PAC does not require the legislature’s approval, as it is a federal investment program funded by government resources, state contributions and the private sector through concessions.

However, there are some obstacles, such as bureaucratic processes and legal uncertainties for public works. Regarding defense, which will rely almost exclusively on public funds, the government might face financial challenges, according to Cristiano Noronha, the vice president of Arko Advice, a consultancy firm in Brazil’s capital Brasília focused on intelligence and political analysis.

“The executive [branch] has often made budget cuts over the years. The investments will depend on the government’s fiscal capacity, spending control and economic growth,” he told Defense News, adding that the program could be seen as an “expression of intent.”

For the Brazilian Air Force, the plan involves the production and acquisition of 34 F-39 Gripen fighters, which would almost double the country’s fleet. Brazil signed a $5.04 billion contract with Swedish manufacturer Saab in 2014 for the purchase of 36 Gripen fighters, for delivery by 2027. In 2022, the signatories added four more fighters to the contract.

Of the 40 now on order, Brazil has received six, with four in operation. The contract stipulated that assembly for 15 F-39E Gripens would take place at Embraer’s factory in Gavião Peixoto in the state of São Paulo. The deal also included a technology sharing agreement between Brazilian engineers and Saab. The fighter production line was inaugurated in May 2023.

“The renewal of the fighter aviation [fleet] is one of the main projects of the Brazilian Air Force covered in the new PAC, and is being realized through the acquisition of the Gripen fighter,” Defense Minister José Mucio Monteiro Filho told Defense News. “It is the most modern combat aircraft in Latin America, enabling Brazil to significantly enhance its air defense capability in line with the country’s continental dimensions.”

The minister also pointed to another program under PAC: the purchase of nine C-390 Millennium planes — initially known as KC-390 — produced by Embraer, along with the development of a refueling version of the model.

“Besides its military role, the KC-390 can be used in national and international humanitarian aid actions, such as supporting public emergencies and firefighting,” he said.

The government website also mentioned plans to convert two Airbus A330 aircraft into aeromedical and aerial refueling planes.

Pedro Pligher is a Latin America correspondent for Defense News. He has reported on politics, economics and the Brazilian small arms industry.

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