This is the seventh blog post in a series looking at an array of issues in 2019 related to weapons use, the arms trade and security assistance, at times offering recommendations.
Out of all Latin American nations, SIPRI’s “Trends in International Arms Transfers, 2017” fact sheet (released in March 2018) only lists Brazil as a major exporter of military equipment; coming in as the world’s 24th largest. While it is not expected that other Latin American countries will be added to that list soon, the region’s defense industries have demonstrated their ambition to learn and apply what they have learned; and they are doing so very quickly for both domestic production and international trade—trends that should continue in coming years.
Recent National Developments
Latin American shipyards have been particularly busy in the past year. For example, Brazil launched its new submarine, named Riachuelo, and it is constructing three additional Scorpène-class diesel-electronic platforms with French assistance. The PROSUB (Programa de Desenvolvimiento de Submarinos) program is a partnership between Brazil’s Itaguaí Construções Navais and Naval Group (former DCNS), following an agreement between Brasilia and Paris. The infamous nuclear-powered submarine, which Brasilia has attempted to manufacture since the 1970s, remains unclear as construction continues to be delayed.
Meanwhile, Mexico’s state run-shipyard ASTIMAR and Damen Shipyards constructed Reformador, with most of the assembly taking place in ASTIMAR’s facilities. The Reformador is the first of an order of eight POLAs, according to the ASTIMAR-Damen contract, but the future of the program will ultimately be decided by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who recently came to power. It is also worth noting that along with Reformador, the offshore patrol vessel ARM Jalisco (PO-167), was also commissioned. The latter is the seventh Oaxaca-class vessel constructed by ASTIMAR, demonstrating that the shipyard can construct a variety of platforms.
As for other nations, Peru commissioned its new landing platform dock, BAP Pisco (AMP-156), in June 2018, and construction is already underway for its sister ship, BAP Paita. The manufacturer of both vessels is the Peruvian state-run shipyard Servicios Industriales de la Marina (SIMA), which is also constructing a variety of riverine vessels for the Peruvian army. Meanwhile, earlier last year the Chilean shipyard ASMAR commenced the construction of a new ice-breaker for the Chilean Navy.
Not only shipyards had a busy 2018. In Argentina, the aircraft manufacturer FAdeA (Fábrica de Aviones Argentinos) has completed the construction and test flights of three IA-63 Pampa III advanced jet trainer aircraft destined for the Argentine Air Force. This is a major development as the Pampa program had stalled for several years. Meanwhile, Brazil’s planemaker Embraer may be purchased by Boeing, which would constitute a major merger; while another Brazilian company, Helibras, a subsidiary of Airbus, continues to deliver H225M helicopters to the Brazilian armed forces.
Trade Within and to Other Regions
Latin American defense industries are not solely constructing platforms for domestic use, they are exporting them as well. Colombia’s COTECMAR signed an agreement with the government of Honduras in late October for the construction of two naval interceptors. This agreement builds upon relations between Bogota and Tegucigalpa as COTECMAR has already delivered a multipurpose support vessel, named Gracias a Dios, to the Honduran navy. Meanwhile, Embraer continues to sell its Tucano aircraft to a variety of clients. Similarly, the Peruvian state-run company SEMAN is actively looking for potential clients for its KT-1P trainer aircraft, which were manufactured in partnership with South Korea’s KAI.
Without a doubt, Latin American governments will continue importing military equipment from extra-regional suppliers as they can provide highly sophisticated hardware. Nevertheless, the point here is that Latin American governments and armed forces want to also produce their own equipment, hence future weapons sales will continue to include “Know How” clauses, so that Latin American defense industries can learn how to manufacture more complex equipment themselves. The close relationship between Mexico and Damen is an example of this type of partnerships as the POLA is based on Damen’s Sigma Frigate 10514 model.
As a final point, the fact that Colombia’s COTECMAR has secured an additional contract to sell interceptor craft to Honduras highlights one important aspect of the ever-evolving arms trade. While extra-regional suppliers certainly offer more sophisticated equipment, countries with limited defense budgets may choose to acquire cheaper but reliable equipment from suppliers that are geographically closer, or with which they enjoy close diplomatic relations.
Analysts that monitor the global arms trade should pay special attention to South-to-South weapons contracts, particularly as certain Latin American defense industries learn how to manufacture more advanced equipment.
Wilder Alejandro Sanchez is an analyst who focuses on geopolitical, military and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.