“We see this as a good opportunity to start a long-term relationship with a country that is very similar to us in terms of technology, culture – almost everything; we have a lot in common,” affirms Brazilian Air Force A-Darter programme project officer Colonel Nelson Silveira. “I see this as a landmark in the relationship between the two countries.” He freely admits that the Brazilians were surprised at how advanced South African technology is.
“We had a very strong defence industry prior to the first Gulf War (1991),” he explains, regarding Brazilian expertise. “We had very strong companies, developing a wide range of products.” However, the sector was very heavily dependent on international markets, which, as far as Brazilian companies were concerned, collapsed following 1991. (Iraq had been a particularly important market.) With few significant domestic orders, the sector contracted sharply, with some companies disappearing and others barely managing to survive. Expertise was lost. Development programmes were halted, or proceeded at a very slow pace.
“We experienced some years without most of the industry making any significant progress,” he adds – and this in a sector in which progress is mandatory to remain competitive. “Brazil did, however, focus on the development of civilian space rockets to support its space programme. So this programme is, for us, a matter of recovering the technology that we had, but lost.” Thus, although the Brazilians are actively participating in the development of the missile, “for us it is more of a technology transfer programme”, he says.
The Brazilian team working alongside South African engineers and technicians at Denel Dynamics is composed of 35 people: 15 Brazilian Air Force per- sonnel, and 20 people from three Brazilian private-sector defence companies. These are Mectron, Brazil’s only missile-producing company, responsible for the country’s indigenous MAA-1 Piranha infrared homing AAM, which currently equips Brazilian fighters and which the A-Darter is intended to replace. The Mectron component of the team numbers 14. Another four personnel are from Avibras, a company with considerable expertise in rocket motors. Finally, there are two from a company called Optoeletronica. In addition, there is a ‘mirror team’ in Brazil.
“The Brazilian technicians have moved from learning, to participating in development,” reports Silveira. “The Brazilian Air Force personnel arrived first, and are fully integrated with the South African team. The Mectron people came next, and were fast-tracked for integration. The Avibras and Optoeletronica staff will be integrated as soon as possible.”
The A-Darter project is also significant for Brazil in that it is the first defence technology development programme to receive funding from outside the country’s Ministry of Defence – it is also being funded by the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology. Development of the A-Darter will allow the Brazilian Air Force to leapfrog an entire AAM generation, going straight from the third generation to the fifth generation.
So successful has the joint programme been so far that Brazil is now negotiating with South Africa to also jointly develop the Denel Dynamics Bateleur unmanned air vehicle project (see Engineering News July 11, 2008).
The A-Darter is not Brazil’s first technology transfer programme. The Brazilian Air Force’s Aero-space Technology General Com-mand (CTA) was originally established as the Aeronautical Technical Centre (also CTA), in 1954, with technology transfer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Brazil’s highly successful and now private-sector aviation company Embraer started as a division of the CTA.