Regional Defense Production Takes Flight With Argentine-Brazil Partnership
By Dialogo October 10, 2011
Argentina’s national aircraft maker, Fábrica Argentina de Aviones SA, will soon begin manufacturing parts for the new KC-390 military transport plane made by Brazil’s Embraer. The joint initiative gives the Argentine company an opportunity to boost its income and capacity while solidifying Argentine-Brazilian cooperation in the area of defense production.
Last April, FAdeA agreed to provide Brazil’s Embraer parts for its KC-390. Julio César Lombardi, FAdeA’s vice-president, told Air Force officials on Sep. 7 that his company’s factory in Córdoba will produce, among other items, front cabin splitters, front doors and air brakes for Embraer.
“This is a very important project for Argentina’s Air Force as it permits us to modernize our aircraft manufacturing capabilities,” explained Brig. Gen. Rubén Montenegro. “Embraer is very demanding when it comes to quality control of manufacturing processes and equipment, which will require FAdeA to invest in improving machinery and training.”
The Córdoba aircraft factory was one of the first of its kind in Latin America when it opened in 1927. After decades of operating as a state entity, it was privatized in 1995. In 2009, however, the factory was nationalized by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who announced that it would become “a strategic tool for national development.”
Today, the state-owned FAdeA mostly provides maintenance for aircraft purchased overseas. But it also continues to produce the AT-63 Pampa, a low-cost advanced trainer and light attack aircraft, as well as another light combat jet, the IA-58 Pucará, for the Argentine Air Force. Indeed, the government insists on ramping up Pampa production, having set the goal for 18 new Pampa jets by 2014. Uruguay, Peru, Paraguay, Poland, Greece and Australia have all expressed interest in acquiring that jet for their respective air forces.
Argentina is part of an international consortium that includes Chile, Colombia, Portugal and the Czech Republic. These countries are working with Embraer to produce a prototype of the KC-390 by 2014. Embraer’s goal is to offer a jet-powered medium transport with a cargo capacity of around 23 tons, which can be refueled in the air and can provide refueling services to other aircraft. Embraer has already received commitments to purchase 60 KC-390s, half of which will go to the Brazilian Air Force. Brazil will finance the purchase of its planes from the part-supplying countries.
“This isn’t a classic model of international cooperation since Embraer will be purchasing directly from the countries involved and will maintain all ownership rights and profits,” said Raúl Humberto Paz, president of the Cámara Argentina de la Industria Aeronáutica [Argentine Aeronautics Industry Chamber]. “Brazil has come up with a savvy business model whereby it will finance the purchase of its own planes, estimated to cost about $80 million each, from the aforementioned partners,” said Paz.
When the two countries’ defense ministers met in Buenos Aires in early September, they reviewed their bilateral cooperation strategy and explored avenues for deepening their strategic relationship. Technological cooperation and defense production were seen as priorities, with specific emphasis placed on the KC-390 project as well as finalization of the Guacho all-terrain vehicle, the development of armored vehicles, cooperation in cyber defense, naval industry collaboration and the synching of norms and catalogs related to defense products.
“In Brazil, defense is a matter of state policy,” said that country’s defense minister, Celso Amorim, during his visit to Buenos Aires. He explained that Brazil’s strategy is organized around three objectives: equipping the armed forces, strengthening the domestic defense industry and promoting South American integration, which he insisted is not “just a theoretical element.”
Building up defense production capacity has been a key element of Brazil’s economic development model and, subsequently, its military revival over the last several years. Today, the Argentine government appears to be also realizing that reviving its national defense industry could not only create jobs but also spark possibilities for technological advancement.
“Currently, there is significant political will to boost Argentina’s national defense industry,” Montenegro said. “This project, along with others like shipbuilding and military equipment production, is being supported by the government to revive this strategic industry.”