Brazilian activists and politicians are furious that the Brazilian government has spent $350 million on acquiring 14 Heron drones($25 million each) from IAI , the Israeli government owned arms companies. The drones will be distributed among several Brazilian police agencies. Rio state police are also said to be considering the purchase of Skylark drones.
While the activists are primarily angry that the Brazilian government is dealing with an Israeli company while Israel is violating the rights of Palestinians, the activists might well direct attention to the cost of the drones, which seems very high. At $25 million each the Heron drones are costing as much or more than the British Watchkeeper drone, which is alleged to have loads of add ons and improvements over the basic Hermes 450 drone, a counterpart to the Heron.
The drones purchase is just part of a flirtation of the Brazilian government with Israeli drone companies. Brazil has also welcomed Elbit Systems, one of Israel’s largest arms companies, through its subsidiary AEL Sistemas, which has expanded quickly in Brazilian aviation.
Drone development joint venture
In April 2011 AEL Sistemas and Embraer signed an agreement to work together on drone development. The joint venture will be known as Harpia Sistemas. Embraer purchased 25% of the shares of AEL, ‘in order to transfer technology to Brazil’. Embraer will hold 51% of the capital of Harpia, AEL will hold 49%. The aim of the joint venture is to develop and sell both military and civilian drones ‘dual use’, first in Brazil and then to other regional customers.
The project is in line with Elbit CEO Joseph Ackerman’s strategic plan to expand Elbit internationally by means of joint ventures with local companies. The joint venture certainly gives the Israeli company a leg up in competing with other countries for drones sales, and helps to bypass any reticence of the Brazilian government about dealing with an Israeli company involved in the repression of Palestinians.
Mercopress has noted that Brazilian police have acquired two Hermes 450 drones from Israel for surveillance in the Amazon basin.
Brazilian joint ventures with the Israeli drone makers may be in direct competition with local drone developers, like AGX Technologia. AGX Technologia makes small drones already widely used by Brazilian enforcement officials, and a small fraction the cost of Israeli medium altitude, long endurance drones, like the Heron. AGX drones are the Arara (parrot) and the Tiriba (little parrot). Several are already in use by environmental enforcement organisations, with fifteen officers trained to use them.
Elbit Systems also announced another big, non-drone sale to the Brazilian military:
Elbit sells infrared countermeasures
Elbit Systems’ Brazilian subsidiary AEL Sistemas has sold a suite of electronics to the Brazilian military for its Embraer KC 39o aircraft. The Embraer 390 is a twin engined jet aimed at moving people and materials. The Embraer 390 is intended for us of the Brazilian military, but may be sold to France, Chile, Argentina, and the Czech Republic as well.
The sale includes ‘self protection systems’ and infrared countermeasures equipment, presumably similar to the ‘MUSIC’ and ‘C-MUSIC’ systems sold for use in Israeli aircraft. Also sold was the pilot’s ‘Heads Up Display’. The contract is for $25 million.
AEL Sistemas has a long history of working with Embraer, selling them avionics for several earlier Embraer plane models.