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Brazil is already one of the world's largest exporters of armaments. Their aggressive sales techniques and lack of prohibitions on resale of their exports have caused some friction with the United States. Brazil also has an advanced space launch program and was seeking to become competitive in the international commercial market, "including the military applications sector." (1) It began work in the 1960s on what is now a highly developed space launch program with the Sonda family of experimental rockets. In 1980, Brazil embarked on a program that would lead to the development of a 50-ton satellite launch vehicle (10,000 km/500 kg), the VLS, to launch a Brazilian satellite. The VLS is probably the smallest long-range rocket that could credibly threaten the United States. The first step on this path was successful flight of the seven-ton Sonda IV sounding rocket (600 km/500 kg) in November 1984, by which time the first flight of the VLS had receded to 1989. The fortunes of the Sonda IV have been mixed. Efforts in the early 1990s by Brazil to secure launch services in the international market suggest that the VLS effort may have been abandoned, or delayed indefinitely.

The medium-range ballistic missiles under development are based on the Sonda IV, which was produced indigenously by the National Institute for Space Research. This two-stage, solid-fuel missile underwent the fourth of five planned tests in the spring of 1989, readying the rocket for use in the VLS. (2) Two large civilian firms, Orbita and Avibras, were developing a series of missiles for export based on this work. By 1996, the Sonda IV was still in development, the stretchout likely due to Orbita going out of business in 1991. (3)

Orbita was also developing the MB/EE-150 mobile tactical missile (150 km/500 kg). Orbita was said to have indigenously developed terminal homing guidance, affording a high degree of accuracy. (4) Also in the series are the MB/EE-350 (350 km), MB/EE-600 (600 km), and MB/EE-1000 (1000 km) surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs). There is speculation that the shorter range systems of this series are in an advanced stage of development, but none has yet entered into production. Further testing and development is most likely constrained by the lack of key foreign-made components, more difficult to obtain since the MTCR agreement. By late 1995, the MB/EE-150 was still considered to be under development and further progress of the longer range missiles of the series is unreported. (5)

Libya was often mentioned as interested in acquiring the MB/EE-600, apparently at one time offering to underwrite the research and development costs. Negotiations were said to be under way between Iraq and the Orbita Company on scientific and technical cooperation for the production of satellites and weapons. A press account reported that "Iraq is also interested in acquiring technologies relating to rockets and missiles...and is disposed to finance part of the Brazilian space program in exchange for the technology." (6)

Avibras, Brazil's largest weapons exporter, is working on the "SS" ballistic missile series, of varying ranges. The SS-150 underwent static testing in December 1986. (7) It was slated for production in 1987, but that was moved back to 1990. (8) Both Libya and Iraq reportedly have expressed interest in the 300-km range mobile SS-300. The third system in this series is the 600-km range SS-600. As of late 1995, the longer range systems are not known to have undergone any operational flight testing.

In June 1989, Avibras announced a joint venture with the Chinese ministry of aeronautics and astronautics industry to "sell space programs and launchings to Third World countries," posing competition with the NASA and Ariane programs. (9) By 1994, however, Brazil concluded an agreement with NASA and the Ariane consortium to use the Alcantara launch range for ionospheric research with sounding rockets. The U.S. State Department was reported to be unhappy with this research venture because the same Brazilian rockets (VLS/Sonda) could be used as weapons. NASA, on the other hand, feels that such peaceful international programs can persuade countries to adhere to MTCR restrictions on the export of offensive missile components. (10) The head of the Brazilian launch vehicle program expected in mid-1995 that the first rocket would be launched by June 1996. (11)

Some analysts claim that Brazil's adherence to MTCR restrictions compromises the organization because Brazil's VLS wasn't canceled and dismantled as a condition of MTCR membership. South Africa terminated a similar program before joining MTCR and Argentina canceled its Condor II before acceding to NPT and joining MTCR. The concern about the VLS program was that it could serve as a cover for a parallel ICBM program. (12)

Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso said on August 18, 1995, "Brazil does not possess, nor does it produce or intend to produce, to import or export long-range military missiles capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction. We are presently developing, and shall continue to develop, space technology for exclusively peaceful purposes." (13) The Brazilian Space Agency was put under civilian control in 1994, ending 20 years of military control of the space program. (14)

Therefore, what appeared to be an emerging missile race between Argentina and Brazil to capture foreign markets, appears to have petered out. Constraints imposed by the MTCR and strategic technology embargoes appear to have greatly slowed or halted the progress of both countries' ballistic missile programs. The shift of the more advanced Brazilian space program to civilian control, its agreements with NASA and the Ariane consortium, and its top-level public commitment to peaceful uses of missile technology, may evidence elimination of any potential threat from subsequent Brazilian missile technology developments and exports.

1. Manchete, 13 May 89, FBIS-LAT 16 June 89.

2. Brasilia domestic service, 18 May 89 (FBIS-LAT 19 May 89) reports, "The launch of the prototype of the Satellite Launching Vehicle, VLS-2, took place at the Barrera do Inferno launch center today after a 2-day delay."

3. Missile Monitor, No. 2, Spring 92, p. 13.

4. Robert Shuey, et al., "Missile Proliferation - Survey of Emerging Missile Forces", Congressional Research Service, 3 Oct 88, rev. 9 Feb 89, p. 89.

5. The Nonproliferation Review, op. cit., p. 159.

6. O Globo, 19 Mar 89 (FBIS-NES 4 Apr 89).

7. "First tests ever on Brazil's SS-300," Jane's Defence Weekly, 20 Dec 86, p. 1428.

8. Robert Shuey, pp. 89-90.

9. Folha De Sao Paulo, 16 June 89 (FBIS-LAT 19 June 89).

10. Space News, 15 Aug 94.

11. European Space Report, June 95, p. 4.

12. Evan S. Madeiros, Arms Control Today, Nov 95, p. 28.

13. Ibid.

14. Space News, 24-30 Apr 95, p. 3.


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