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Brazil Table of Contents


Missile Programs

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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The main source of information about Brazilian science is Fernando de Azevedo's As ciências no Brasil , a collection of essays written by leading Brazilian scientists in the early 1950s. Simon Schwartzman's A Space for Science: The Development of the Scientific Community in Brazil is a sociological interpretation of the institutionalization of scientific and technological activities in the country. It is based on extensive interviews with leading scientists and a review of written sources. Science and Technology in Brazil by Schwartzman et al discusses the need for a strategic role by science and technology in Brazil.

A few key institutions have been the subject of detailed studies that have illuminated the social, economic, and political climate of the times. Noteworthy are those on the Ouro Prêto School of Mines (Escola de Minas de Ouro Prêto) in the nineteenth century and on the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in the early twentieth century. Most institutional histories, however, are just laudatory tales of names and achievements and have little analytical content. Works on the Brazilian Association for the Progress of Sciences appeared in 1987 and 1990 by Ana Maria Fernandes and Antônio José Botelho, respectively. The association's journals, Ciência e Cultura and Ciência Hoje , are important repositories of historical and contemporary information.

The ambitious project of technological development since the 1970s has generated several analytical and comparative studies from economic and political perspectives. Emanuel Alder has compared the computer and nuclear policies in Brazil with those in Argentina, linking their different results with the ideologies and social groups behind these policies. For the broad policies, see the writings of Fábio Stefano Erber; for the computer industry, see Paulo Bastos Tigre. The main source for publications on the economic dimensions of scientific and technological policies in Brazil is the Applied Economic Research Institute (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada--IPEA), an agency of Brazil's Ministry of Planning. The ministry also publishes Revista de Pesquisa e Planejamento Econômico . The Brazilian Science and Technology Policy Project, conducted by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo in 1993, has published about forty studies on different aspects of Brazilian science and technology through the Editora da Fundação Getúlio Vargas in Rio de Janeiro.

A series of working papers resulted from three science and technology policy studies carried out in Brazil in 1993 and 1994, with the support of the Ministry of Science and Technology, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). One of the studies was carried out at the University of Campinas under the coordination of Luciano G. Coutinho. It focused on the conditions and possibilities for strengthening Brazil's industrial competitiveness. A second study under the coordination of Francisco Biato was a joint project of the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, and the UNDP. The third science and technology study was conducted at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation under the coordination of Simon Schwartzman, with the support of the Ministry of Science and Technology and the World Bank. The program of science and technology at the University of São Paulo has published a series of books on the management of science and technology research units and related subjects, with a special emphasis on the private sector.

Brazil's nuclear programs have received considerable academic and journalistic attention. The most insightful analysis is provided by Etel Solingen in her various journal articles and in her book, Industrial Policy, Technology, and International Bargaining: Designing Nuclear Industries in Argentina and Brazil . Some of the most vociferous critics of Brazil's nuclear development are Brazilians themselves. Luiz Pinguelli Rosa, a nuclear scientist who was a major opponent of the Brazilian-German nuclear accord, criticizes the role of Brazil's military in nuclear development in A política nuclear e o caminho das armas atômicas . Frederico Füllgraf provides critical and historical analysis in A bomba pacífica: O Brasil e a corrida nuclear . Tania Malheiros, a journalist, offers a provocative account of Brazil's nuclear program in Brazil, a bomba oculta: O programa nuclear brasileiro .

Brazil's space program has received much less attention than its nuclear programs. Steven M. Flank provides an excellent comparative analysis in his Ph.D. dissertation "Reconstructing Rockets: The Politics of Developing Military Technology in Brazil, India, and Israel." Brian G. Chow examines the difficulties in attaining space-launching capabilities in An Evolutionary Approach to Space Launch Commercialization . Péricles Gasparini Alves assesses Brazil's space program in "Access to Outer Space Technologies: Implications for International Security." (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of April 1997

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