At the end of August 2011, Brazil’s Ministerio da Defesa announced the beginning of a BRL 1.09 billion (about $685 million) project to update Avibras’ ASTROS (Artillery SaTuration ROcket System) multiple rocket launcher system to the ASTROS 2020 configuration. It will also develop a GPS-guided short-range rocket, and an AV-TM300 missile option that gives the new system a 300 km strike range. That level of reach would stand out in the global market, as it would rival the USA’s MLRS(Multiple Launch Rocket System)/ATACMS(Army Tactical Missile System) combination.
The initial funding amounts belie the importance of this program, on 2 levels. One source of importance is industrial. The other is ASTROS 2020’s status as an indicator, pointing the way toward the future spread of advanced precision strike technologies.
The current ASTROS-II Mk.3 variant is based on the Mercedes Benz 2028A truck. A new Mk.6 system will use Tatra Trucks’ T815-790R39 6×6 and T815-7A0R59 4×4 trucks instead.
In contrast to the 227mm American MLRS/HIMARS system, ASTROS has always allowed a range of rocket calibers. Customers could load ASTROS with a pod carrying up to 32 x 127mm SS-30s, 16 x 180mm SS-40s with a range of 40km, or 4 x 300mm SS-60/80s with 90km range, depending on how they wanted to balance range and barrage capacity at any given time. New AV-TM300 cruise missiles would limit the launcher’s load to just 2 missiles.
A full ASTROS system includes 1 wheeled 4×4 Battalion level Command Vehicle (AV-VCC), which commands 3 batteries, and a series of 6×6 wheeled vehicles. Each battery consists of:
* 1 4×4 Battery-level Command vehicle (AV-PCC)
* 1 Fire Control vehicle (AV-UCF)
* 6 Rocket launchers (AV-LMU)
* 6 Ammunition resupply vehicles (AV-RMD)
* 1 Recovery vehicle (AV-OFVE)
* 1 4×4 Mobile weather station (AV-MET). Ambient and active weather affect artillery.
The command vehicles and weather stations are recent additions, designed to improve overall system performance. All vehicles are transportable in a C-130 Hercules.
Under ASTROS 2020, Brazil will field 3 batteries of ASTROS II Mk.6 launchers, and modernize existing launchers to Mk.3M status. On the technology front, ASTROS 2020 offers several steps forward. Basic improvements include an improved armored cabin, modern digital communications and navigation systems, and a new tracking radar that replaces the AV-UCF’s Contraves Fieldguard system.
The biggest improvement involves tactical capability. In 2012, the Brazilian Army decided to invest in the GPS-guided 180mm SS-AV-40G guided rocket, but it will have just 40 km of range. That’s enough to compete with standard artillery shells, but lacks the reach that many other MLRS competitors have developed.
The AV-TM300 would add a very long-range, precision strike option that has been missing to date. Avibras’ President has confirmed MdD’s description of AV-TM as a “missil de cruzeiro” (jet-powered cruise missile), rather than a ballistic missile like the American M-140 ATACMS. Avibras itself will reportedly develop the engine, and the guidance package will be a combination of GPS/INS and terrain matching.
The tactical consequence of their technical choice is that the ASTROS’ 300 km strikes will take much longer to arrive than an ATACMS strike. On the other hand, successful development is likely to be easier, and interesting future variants like anti-ship missiles become thinkable.
Some International Competitors
ASTROS 2020 is being driven by international competition, as well as by Brazilian industrial imperatives. With long range precision strike added, existing ASTROS customers might be more inclined to keep their existing systems despite the existence of competitive offerings, even as Brazil looks for new markets abroad.
Recent advances in competitive systems like the American M270 MLRS/ M142 HIMARS have changed the landscape, by adding GPS guidance to create the 227mm “GMLRS” precision attack rocket. At the same time, the option to swap 6 MLRS rockets for a 300 km, GPS-guided M-140 ATACMS ballistic missile has vastly extended those systems’ threat reach. Lockheed continues to improve their 227mm rockets, and recently completed a 120 km firing of their new GMLRS+ offering. Their products are both market and technology leaders. The tracked M270 won’t fit into a 20-ton aerial transport, but the truck-mounted M142 HIMARS will.
Israel would be the follow-on competitor from a performance standpoint. IMI’s 160mm LAR-160 system has 26 rockets, and can offer ACCULAR GPS-guided rockets with 40 km reach, or switch in 4-packs of EXTRA GPS-guided missiles that extend its range to 150 km. Several Latin American countries have LAR-160s, including Argentina, Chile, and Venezuela. If mounted on a compatible IMI LYNX system, guided Delilah-GL missiles can be swapped in to strike moving targets like ships, or provide similar 150 km reach with even more precision than GPS guidance.
IMI also offers something called the Trajectory Correction System, designed to improve accuracy and control. It’s integrated with their standard LAR-160 rocket and with Lockheed’s basic 227mm MLRS rockets, but it can be customized for other companies’ rockets as well.
Russia’s 220mm Uragan and 300mm SMERCH systems offer 80-90 km range with a variety of rocket warheads, and are reportedly branching out into specialty options like surveillance/ UAV payloads. At present, there’s no guided rocket option listed, but some rocket variants do have guided submunitions inside.
Turkey’s Roketsan offers their 302mm T-300, which was reportedly developed with assistance from China. It has many outward similarities with China’s 4-tube WS-1.
ASTROS will find itself competing with all of these offerings, and more, in the international arena. Its 1st stage of competition, given the diversity of offerings out there, will involve holding on to existing customers.
The Industrial Plan
On the industrial front, the government is trying to revive Avibras, whose ASTROS system remains one of Brazil’s most successful weapon export programs. During the Cold War, Brazil worked to develop a significant military-industrial complex of its own, and developed a variety of ground vehicles including tanks and APCs. Exports were very difficult in an environment dominated by the Cold War superpowers and their clients, but Avibras’ ASTROS was one of the few exceptions. It sold extremely well in the Middle East, with clients that included Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and the gulf states of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.
Recent decades have been less kind to Brazil’s military industrial base, beyond the considerable civil success of Embraer. Military ground vehicle industrial capacity must be completely rebuilt, in the wake of Engesa SA’s 1993 bankruptcy. Even Avibras applied for bankruptcy protection in July 2008. A financial restructuring took place with help from Brazil’s Federal Government, and Avibras has been involved in projects like Brazil’s VANT (UAV) R&D project. Even so, the ASTROS 2020 project is Avibras’ first big step back toward future viability as a military supplier.
It also continues a wider push to restore Brazil’s defense-industrial base, often in cooperation with foreign partners. From Cougar medium helicopters (Eurocopter) to new Guarani wheeled APCs (Iveco), to aerial missiles like A-Darter (Denel), to its own KC-390 aerial transport design, Brazil is pushing ahead on a number of fronts.
As it pushes ahead, the international landscape for defense buys changes. The sale of Mectron’s MAR-1 radar-killer missiles to Pakistan caused a bit of a kerfuffle, even as it may open new markets for Brazilian exports. Avibras’ ASTROS 2020 MLRS would add a new entrant of its own to the global market, and ASTROS 2020 Buyers would acquire a long-range, precision attack system.
As the number of available sellers for such systems expands in the global marketplace, it becomes more difficult to block disfavored countries from acquiring them. As an example, Brazil has very cordial relations with Iran, for various reasons of its own. American disfavor hasn’t made any difference, and it might not prevent the export of a system like ASTROS, if Iran wanted it. Disfavor from existing ASTROS customers in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar might, but the example is a good illustration of the way traditional controls are weakening. The current trend involves diversification of suppliers, even for major equipment like precision rocket artillery. As it continues, future military plans are going to have to assume that even many 3rd world enemies will have precision attack options, to go with surveillance options like UAVs.
The BRL 1 billion question is whether even a successful ASTROS 2020 development project will enable Avibras to field a renewed export success, and capture an appreciable slice of that market.
Contracts & Key Events
Dec 4/14: MK6 vehicles. Brazil’s Army signed a new contract with Avibras for the production of 20 MK6 vehicles. The order is split into 2 parts. The 1st one spreads 12 units between 5 Universal Multiple Launchers, 5 Ammunition Resupply Carriers, 1 weather station and 1 command/control vehicle. The other 8 vehicles will be dedicated to meteorology, fire control, and mobile offices/electronics. They will join the 6th Grupo de Lançadores Multiplos de Foguetes [in Portuguese]. The contract’s value is R$ 167.6M (about $65M). 60 vehicles in total are scheduled to be acquired for ASTROS 2020, up from a previous projected total of 50.
June 6/14: MK6. The Brazilian Army received its 1st batch of 9 MK6 vehicles, and made some demonstration launches for good measure during a ceremony in Formosa, in the state of Goias.
Dec 1/13: Mk.3 upgrade. Brazil is reportedly about to issue Avibras a contract to upgrade existing ASTROS-II Mk.3 systems to the Mk.3M configuration, incorporating most of the new Mk.6’s advances but retaining the existing Mercedes Benz truck platform. It’s part of the ASTROS 2020 plan, which also includes the fielding of 3 new Mk.6 batteries alongside the older systems. Both the 6th Missiles and Rockets Group and its new counterpart will be based in Formosa, State of Goias, Brazil. Sources: IHS Jane’s, “Brazilian Army to upgrade ASTROS II Mk 3”.
ASTROS-II Mk.6 order
March 20/13: Indonesia. Defense News reports that the Astros may have a new customer (q.v. Nov 10/12), but financing has been an issue:
“Jakarta relaunched a bank tender this year to raise money to buy the Brazilian Avibras Astros B multiple rocket launcher system…. capable of firing cluster submunitions. Western banks likely stayed away because the Oslo convention bans these weapons, forcing Indonesia to reset the tender a couple of months ago. Indonesia reportedly used that type of munition in East Timor when the local population called for self rule in a 1999 referendum.”
They may be able to find that financing in Asia. Indonesia recently signed a 5-year, EUR 108 million financing deal for 34 Caesar 155/52mm self-propelled artillery systems, at a premium of around 2%. Sources: Defense News, “Indonesia’s Big Procurement Push Is Aided By Lenders”.
Dec 16/12: defesanet reports [in Portuguese] that Brazil has signed the full $195 million AV-TM missile development contract, during a quiet Nov 29/12 ceremony at Army Command in Brasilia. The Army also reportedly signed a $40 million contract to develop a 180mm GPS/INS guided SS-AV-40 rocket with a 40 km strike range.
Avibras President Sami Hassuani confirms that the missile will be jet-powered, using GPS/INS guidance coupled with terrain-matching. Terminal radar or Imaging Infrared guidance for use against moving targets isn’t currently a feature. He’s quoted as promising that AV-TM300 deliveries would begin in 2016, adding that the full ASTROS 2020 project for Brazil would be complete by 2018. He also sees orders of around US$2 billion from existing ASTROS customers in the Gulf States, Malaysia, and Indonesia, which adds up to new potential business of up to $3.5 billion by 2022.
One potential barrier to exports is the international Missile Technology Control Regime, which prohibits exports by its signatories of missiles that can carry a 500 pound warhead over 300 miles. Hassauni points out that the AV-TM300 is just within the distance requirements, and its 150-200 pound warhead is well below the payload limit. He adds that even if a future variant breached those limits, the MTCR doesn’t prevent Brazil from developing such equipment for its own use.
Dev: AV-TM300 & SS-AV-40 rocket
Nov 19/12: Indonesia. Indonesia has reportedly ordered 2 ASTROS II batteries, with 36 launchers plus ancillary vehicles. Sources: Defense Studies, “Indonesia Ordered 36 Astros II Rocket Systems”.
Aug 7/12: 30 vehicles. Brazil’s Ministrerio da Defesa announces some of the buys under Brazil’s BRL 1.527 billion (about $760 million) military component of their Growth Acceleration Program (PAC) infrastructure/ stimulus financing. It includes 30 Astros 2020 “veiculos lancadores de misseis”, and it isn’t clear whether this implicitly includes battery vehicles beyond the launching AV-LMUs. As noted earlier, a full ASTROS battalion involves 49 trucks of various kinds, among which only 18 are AV-LMU launch vehicles. Most of the rest (another 18) are AV-RMD ammunition resupply vehicles.
The transfer of funds was authorized in late June 2012 through a Provisional Measure signed by President Rousseff, and the announcement also involves 4,170 trucks, and 86 Guarani wheeled 6×6 armored personnel carriers. Details are sketchy, but the APCs were BRL 240 million, and given standard military truck costs, the ASTROS vehicle order is probably between BRL 100 – 250 million. Brazilian MdD [in Portuguese].
Aug 26/11: Brazil’s Ministerio do Defesa announces the launch of the ASTROS 2020 project, which could rise to BRL 1.09 billion, but is beginning with a BRL 45 million (about $28 million) contract.
Brazil intends to buy 3 ASTROS 2020 batteries: a total of 18 launch vehicles, 18 ammunition resupply vehicles, 3 fire control units, 3 weather stations, 3 recovery vehicles and 3 armored command and control vehicles. The 49th vehicle will handle integrated command and control for the entire battalion. Brazil’s MdD [in Portuguese]
ASTROS 2020 Launch
* Avibras – Corporate Site. A poor navigation setup means that you have to find ASTROS and the AV-TM yourself.
* Army Technology – Astros II Artillery Saturation Rocket System, Brazil
* IMI – LAR-160 System.
* Army Technology – MLRS Multiple Launch Rocket System, United States of America
* Lockheed Martin – Multiple Launch Rocket System M270. The M142 HIMARS is a truck-mounted version that holds half the number of rockets/missiles, and is C-130 transportable.
* Lockheed Martin – GMLRS Guided Unitary MLRS Rocket
* Army Technology – Smerch 9K58 MLRS Multiple Launch Rocket System, Russian Federation
* Roketsan – T-300 ÇNRA, 300 mm Çok Namlulu Roketatar
* Army Technology – WS-1B Multiple-Launch Rocket System, China. Note the similarities to Roketsan’s product.