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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Missile Programs

In 1971 a joint civilian-military committee, the Brazilian Commission for Space Activities (Comissão Brasileira de Atividades Espaciais--Cobae), was established and placed under the CSN (National Security Council). Cobae was chaired by the head of the Armed Forces General Staff (Estado-Maior das Forças Armadas--EMFA) and was in charge of the Complete Brazilian Space Mission (Missão Espacial Completa Brasileira--MECB). The MECB, created in 1981, was an ambitious US$1 billion program with the aim of attaining self-sufficiency in space technology.

The potential military applications of Brazil's MECB center around the Sonda IV and its VLS, which could be used for a ballistic missile. Sonda IV has a range of 600 kilometers and can carry a 500-kilogram payload, and is therefore subject to MTCR restrictions. The transformation of the Sonda IV into an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) would require several more successful launches and a major technological leap, especially in payload shielding and guidance.

Many of the factors that drove Brazil's nuclear programs also have driven the space and missile programs. In the mid-1980s, Brazil was concerned with Argentina's Condor II ballistic missile program, which received substantial technological assistance from Europe and funding from Iraq. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, however, Argentina dismantled its Condor missile program and removed that rationale for Brazil's MECB. Brazil's quest for advanced technology drives much of the space and ballistic missile programs. For example, Brazilian authorities considered the April 1990 purchase of follow-on satellites for the Brazilian Satellite (Brasilsat) program an opportunity to receive valuable technology. The Brazilian government specifically required that the transfer of satellite technology be a precondition for the purchase of the satellites. In sum, an attempt by Brazil to produce a ballistic missile is driven primarily by a search for technological autonomy, although political, security, and economic motives are also important.

The government of Brazil has stated that it supports the peaceful applications of space technology and denies any intention of developing a ballistic missile. It argues that the Sonda IV is only a satellite launcher and lacks the required accuracy for military use. At least one missile expert, Steven M. Flank, has argued that if Brazil had intended to develop a ballistic missile it would not have chosen the Sonda technological path. He notes, for example, that the VLS employed in the Sondas are solid-propellant systems, which are not as effective as liquid-propellants for launching ballistic missiles.

The armed forces have even greater control over missile production than they do over the MECB. Following a meeting in June 1986 among six companies, the Armed Forces General Staff (EMFA), and the three military ministries, missile production was placed under the authority of the Armed Forces Joint Command (Comando Geral das Forças Armadas--CMFA). All missile manufacturers are required to submit programs to the CMFA, which evaluates them and awards contracts.

The most important Brazilian company involved in incipient missile technology is Avibrás Aerospace Industry, Inc. (Avibrás Indústria Aeroespacial S.A.--Avibrás). The Astros II, a multiple rocket launcher, is the most profitable weapon produced by Avibrás. It can launch rockets of different caliber: SS-30 rockets up to thirty kilometers; SS-40 rockets, forty kilometers; and SS-60 rockets, sixty kilometers. In the 1980s, Avibrás sold an estimated sixty-six Astros II artillery systems to Iraq and an unspecified number to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Qatar. Total sales of the Astros II between 1982 and 1987 reached US$1 billion.

In the late 1980s, Avibrás was involved in the development of the SS-150 (based on the Astros-II), the SS-300, and the SS-1000 (based largely on the Sonda rockets). All Avibrás programs were "put on hold" in January 1990, when the company filed for bankruptcy. Its employee roster had fallen from 6,000 to 900, and the company had US$90 million worth of unsold rockets. Although Avibrás improved its financial health in the early 1990s, by the end of 1995 the SS-150 and the SS-300 had not passed the initial stages of development, and the SS-1000 had not even been designed.

In the mid-1980s, the armed forces became frustrated by delays in the development of self-guided missiles. Following the June 1986 meeting between private industry and the military, a consensus was reached that standardization in missile production was necessary. As a result, a new firm, Orbital Aerospace Systems, Inc. (Órbita Sistemas Aerospaciais S.A.), was created in February 1987 to coordinate Brazil's missile program. Órbita was tasked with developing guided missiles, rockets, and satellite launchers for civilian applications. Órbita, however, collapsed in the early 1990s because of inadequate funding, technological constraints, and restrictions placed by the United States and other MTCR signatories on the transfer of sensitive technology to Brazil.

By mid-1997, therefore, Brazil could be placed in a fourth tier of ballistic missile producers. The first tier includes the United States and Russia, which have ICBMs. The second comprises nations such as France, China, Britain, and Israel, which have ballistic missiles of more limited range and accuracy. A third group includes developing countries, such as Iraq, India, and South Africa, which have advanced missile programs with modest ranges. A fourth category includes countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Pakistan, and South Korea, which have artillery rockets and embryonic ballistic missile capabilities. Brazil's capabilities clearly pale in comparison with those of the first two tiers and are even modest when compared with those in the third tier. Nonetheless, its programs indicate that it aspires to a third- and perhaps a second-tier status. Finally, it should be noted that Brazil's space and missile capabilities are sophisticated in relation to those of most developing nations. In summary, Brazil's ballistic missile program, which faces formidable constraints, is largely in the preplanning stages and not engaged in serious research and development.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:37:11 ZULU