In the late 1980s, Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica SA (Embraer) and Aermacchi launched The AMX project, a joint Italian/Brazilian program to create a lead-in fighter trainer and light attack aircraft. The result was a capable jet, especially in the light attack role, which entered service with Brazil in 1990 as the A-1. Unfortunately for the AMX team, the Soviet empire’s fall took a lot of impetus out of the global combat jet market. Meanwhile, fierce competition from entrenched competitors like the Czech L-39 Albatross family, BAE’s Hawk family, and the Franco-German Alpha Jet ensured that AMX never took off in that shrunken export market.
Brazil’s FAB still uses the AMX as an important component of its air combat power, with about 43 A-1A fighters and 11 lead-in trainers in the fleet. Italy also uses the aircraft, but Brazil’s dearth of operational front-line fighters, and larger land area, make the AMX much more important in Brazil. Which is why Brazil’s A-1A fleet needs upgrades, in order to remain effective.
The original A-1A AMX fighter is a sub-sonic light jet with twin DEFA 30mm cannons, 5 hardpoints (4 underwing and 1 centerline), plus wingtip rails for short range AIM-9 Sidewinder and MAA-1 Piranha missiles. The aircraft can reportedly carry laser-guided bombs, in addition to standard options like unguided bombs and rockets. The DEFA cannons are unique to Brazilian AMX machines, but a more visible difference involves the planes’ bolt-on aerial refueling probe.
The new A-1M includes structural refurbishments designed to keep Brazil’s fleet safe to fly until about 2032, and nearly complete replacement of the plane’s avionics with a modern digital cockpit that’s compatible with night vision goggles. This means replacing many dials and knobs with a DASH IV helmet-mounted display, 3 multifunction color displays, and a new head-up display, all linked to a new GPS-capable navigation and communications system. Hardware upgrades include an upgraded Mectron/SELEX’s SCP-01 Scipio radar, an upgraded radar warning receiver, and improved FLIR and laser target designators. A-1Ms will also have the initial version of the BR2 datalink, and Mectron aims to begin testing the more advanced version on other FAB jets by 2016.
Additional internal upgrades with allow A-1Ms to fire the new A-Darter short range air-to-air missile, which is substantially better than anything in Brazil’s current inventory. A-1Ms will also carry Mectron’s new MAR-1 radar-killer missile, which is currently in development. Mectron is also developing a GPS-guided bomb kit called ACAUAN, but it isn’t 100% clear whether the new A-1M will be able to make full use of GPS-guided weapons.
Contracts & Key Events
Oct 8/13: IFF. Embraer has awarded Thales a contract to supply panel-mounted Thales Bluegate TSC 2030 transponders, and remote Thales Bluegate TSC 2050 IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) transponders, in order to equip 48 upgraded A-1M fighters and E-99 AEW surveillance aircraft.
The Bluegate transponders can operate in either national secure cryptographic mode, or in NATO’s secure Mode 4/ Mode 5. They’re also compatible with ICAO standards for civil aviation. Sources: Thales, Oct 8/13 release.
Dec 13/12: Support. The FAB signs an A-1 Integrated Logistics Support contract with Embraer. The contract includes logistical support, equipment acquisition, component repair, engineering & technical support, continued obsolescence monitoring, and scheduled & unscheduled maintenance.
AMX fighters undergoing modernization drop out of the operational fleet, so improving the availability of the remaining fighters becomes very important. The FAB’s Aeronautical Material Park Galeao (PAMA-GL), in Rio de Janeiro, will manage the contract. FAB [in Portuguese].
Dec 7/12: Datalink. Brazil’s FAB signs a congtract with Mectron to develop a broadband “BR2” datalink that will be able to send text and images. The project is actually a further development of the link installed in modernized A-1Ms, and the new link will be backward-compatible. By 2016, the FAB aims to have prototypes of the new link flying in 4 F-5M fighters, 4 A-29 Super Tucano turboprops, and 2 “E-99” (EMB 145/ R-99) AEW&C jets, plus air force, army, and navy ground stations. After tests have been conducted, they’ll look at rolling it out to other platforms.
At present, FAB F-5Ms have their own datalinks, and so do their Super Tucanos. The BR1 datalink is used to help the R-99s communicate with each other and with ground stations. BR2 is the FAB’s step toward a common platform, which will be under their developmental control. Ultimately, the BR2’s project managers see it as a datalink that will equip Fighter aircraft, reconnaissance aircraft, patrol aircraft, refueling, ISR planes, and even helicopters. FAB [in Portuguese].
June 19/12: Embraer announces the 1st flight of its modernized A-1M light attack jet. That clears the way for flight testing, which is now slightly behind schedule. At present, 10 AMX/A-1 aircraft are being modernized at Embraer facilities, and the first operational deliveries are now planned for 2013, instead of 2012.
The ceremony at Embraer’s manufacturing plant at Gaviao Peixoto, in outstate Sao Paulo, also includes delivery of the last 2 upgraded F-5s from the FAB’s December 2000 order for 46 F-5EM/FM supersonic fighters, and delivery of the 99th and last Brazilian “A-29” Super Tucano light attack turboprop. These 3 planes are connected by their internal systems as well as temporal events: the F-5BR, A-1M, and A-29 programs all use a similar suite of avionics and equipment from Elbit’s Brazilian subsidiary AEL. See also Defense Update.
Jan 17/11: Embraer and the Brazilian Air Force’s COMAER (Comando da Aeronautica) sign a $250 million contract to overhaul 43 AMX jet fighters, in order to prepare them for full modernization. The maiden flight of the modernized single-seat prototype is planned for early 2012, when the flight testing is scheduled to begin. The first delivery is expected by the end of 2012, and the contract as a whole is expected to run for about 70 months.
This deal complements the previous contract to modernize AMX fighters, signed in 2003. This new agreement deals with a structural overhaul, and the repair and substitution of outdated equipment. The hope is that this will ensure a more efficient and steady flow for the fighters’ overall updating process, and shrink the turnaround time for the upgrade. Embraer | Defense News.
Overhaul & prep contract
Nov 11/08: Elbit Systems Ltd. announces a $187 million contract from Brazil’s Embraer to upgrade the FAB AMX fleet’s avionics and mission systems. The initial development and prototype phase is valued at about $67 million; if approval is given at the end of this phase, the entire contract is scheduled to be completed through 2014.
Embraer’s overall 2003 A-1 modernization contract was renegotiated in 2008, and adjusted to BRL 740.7 million (about $337 million).
Elbit’s wholly-owned Brazilian subsidiary Aeroeletronica S.A. (AEL) in Porto Alegre, Brazil will supply the central battle mission computer of the AMX, as well as display systems, the ammunition management system and additional systems. Elbit’s Israeli subsidiary, Elisra Electronic Systems Ltd., will supply the electronic warfare (EW) systems as a major subcontractor to AEL. AEL is already executing avionics systems upgrades under previous contracts for Brazil’s 46 modernized F-5EM fighters (2001, 2007), and original avionics and equipment orders for 99 EMB-314 Super Tucano observation and light attack turboprops (2002, 2007). Elbit Systems release [PDF] | FAB release re: the overall modernization program [in Portuguese].
Base modernization & key sub-contract
* Airforce Technology – AMX Fighter Bomber, Italy
* Mectron – Radar SCP-01 [in Portuguese]
* Poder Aero – Radar SCP-01 ‘Scipio’ [in Portuguese]
* Ha’aretz (Nov 10/09) – Elbit Systems hiring locals to win large Brazilian tenders