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EE-T2 Osrio

The development of the Osorio marked a milestone in the history of Brazil's defense industry; this tank is its first military vehicle equipped with tracks instead of wheels. In 1977 Brazil formally severed its arms relationship with the United States and turned vigorously to domestic production as well as to importing technology from Western Europe under licensing and co-production arrangements. Employing a mixture of private and government collaboration, Brazil orchestrated an aggressive program to build up its own defense industry. Brazil has progressed to the point of designing and manufacturing a host of military items like wheeled armored vehicles, turboprop trainers, rockets, rifles, missiles, tanks, bombs, ammunition, military communications equipment, and computers. In March 1984 Brazil and the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which called for military cooperation between the two countries. Thus, President Reagan adopted a new US policy toward Brazil. He reversed President Carter's policy of denying arms, replacing it with a policy encouraging, or at least not interfering with joint efforts in arms production.

Foreign equipment inputs to the Brazilian EE-T1 (Osorio) light tank are instructive. The tank incorporates a West German engine, transmission, and tracks, a British suspension system, and British or French main gun and fire control system. The dual-purpose vision of the Brazilians was deep in their design and development phases by domestic and international technologies serving both military and civilian customers. As an example, Engesa saw automobile technologies benefit from production of tanks and armored personnel carriers.

By the mid-1980s, Engesa had spent US$100 million on the development of the General Osrio, a main battle tank, but was unable to find a buyer for it. This design of the Brazilian armaments industry was sophisticated, and demanded a high investment in technology. It was equipped with computers and endowed with a modern system of weapons. The improved version would have receive the designation of EE-T1 (armed with a 120mm cannon), and the version that would have been adopted for the Brazilian Army (armed with a 105mm cannon) the EE-T2 Osrio.

The 35-ton Osorio tank was powered by a diesel turbine engine and attaining a speed of 44 miles per hour. The company plans to equip this tank initially with a 105mm gun and in later models replace this with the 120mm gun. Spokesmen for the firm claimed that the Osorio packs the same firepower and costs much less than the US M-1 Abrams tank. Furthermore, its supporters claimed that the Osorio is easier to operate and to maintain than the M-1. How this tank would fare in actual combat against the heavier US tank cannot be proved without a contest under simulated or actual wartime conditions.

The original model was provided for real tests in Saudi Arabia, it was the winner of the competition between M-1 Abrams, 40 AMX and Challenger, in the late 1980s. The Army Ministry and ENGESA [Specialized Engineers, Inc] were optimistic about making a contract with Saudi Arabia involving $4 billion (212 billion cruzados). That contract covered the supplying of 1,000 Osorio battle tanks, the Brazilian arms industry's most modern product, with replacement parts and the installation of an assembly line and maintenance in the vicinity of Riyadh.

This contract was considered so important that the Army minister himself, Leonidas Pires Goncalves, was in Saudi Arabia in October 1987, lending political support to ENGESA's intention. It was the first time that a Brazilian government official had given that type of backing, which was common in all countries with an arms market tradition. The minister's visit was preceded, some months earlier, by visits paid by the prime minister of France, the British defense minister, and the U.S. secretary of state.

Before his trip, Minister Leonidas Pires Goncalves was satisfied with the results: "I know that Jose Luiz Whitaker, president of ENGESA, is a man who is enthusiastic about what he produces; and for this reason I assigned a Brazilian Army team to monitor the Saudi tests. That team confirmed the Osorio's excellent performance in all the tests to which it was subjected. It is important to stress that an Osorio costs $2.5 million, and weighs only 42 tons, whereas the American tank weighs 62 tons and costs $4.5 million."

During the qualification tests, which lasted 3 months in the desert, the Brazilian product was outstanding, along with the Abrams M-l. In the firing tests, the Osorio managed to hit a target every 4 seconds, traveling 70 km per hour, with a total of 16 strikes during a 32-second course. The results were repeated by the Saudi crew. In the same course, the Abrams M-l made 12 strikes. The French AMX-40 hit only eight targets, and the British Challenger, only six. During the resistance tests, on several thousand kilometers of rocky, sandy desert, the Osorio and the Abrams showed no flaws. The AMX-40 exploded two engines, and the Challenger lost a motor assembly and a transmission case. Other problems appearing were the French gun's excessive wear, and the large number of failures in the British tank's firing control.

The Osorio, although it was equipped with the same systems that evinced flaws in the British and French tanks, did not show any problem during the 3 months of testing. ENGESA had tested the French gun and the British firing system under stringent conditions in the hottest part of Bahia.

The difference in weight demonstrated, on the first day, an advantage of the Brazilian battle tank: the fact that it can be transported on a gun carriage to the test site. The suspension shaft on the gun carriage broke when the American tank was placed on the transport vehicle. The solution was a long move for the Abrams to the test grounds, in the middle of the desert. This revealed another drawback of the American tank: the excessive wear on the tread pads, which were changed every 300 km on the desert journey.

Political pressure from the U.S. Government could force Saudi Arabia to purchase some Abrams M-l's. However, the Brazilian Army minister thought that there could be a possible division of the market, inasmuch as ENGESA planned to set up the assembly line in the vicinity of Ryad, which would serve as a backup and distribution center for the Middle East. Sources from the Military Equipment Department reported that the Saudi contract would consist of two parts: 200 Abrams M-l's and 1,000 Osorios. On this occasion, the Brazilian Army would receive 50 ENGESA battle tanks as a demonstration unit for other potential clients.

By the end of 1987 ENGESA hoped to sell 530 of the Osorio model to the Saudis, five times the number estimated by the War Materiel Department (DMB) of the Army at the beginning of the second half of the year, but still far fewer than the 1,000 which, a little more than a year earlier, the company itself hoped to place in Saudi Arabia. The ENGESA management believed that the contract with the Saudis might be signed in May of 1988. Despite an announcement in August 1989 by the Saudi Government that they were going to buy 318 Osorios (renamed Al Fahd, the Lion Of The Desert), the contract (worth US$7.2 billion) was never signed. In April 1990, after laying off 3,000 workers, Engesa filed for bankruptcy protection.

The Osrio project came to an abrupt end with Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991. Engesa had won the evaluation process by the Saudis. After Desert Storm, Brazil was no match for United States competition, given the close ties that developed between Saudi Arabia and the United States during the war with Iraq.

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Page last modified: 28-04-2013 19:16:32 ZULU