Leadership: The Brass Go Begging In Brazil


December 1, 2007: After two decades of good behavior (no taking over the government), Brazils generals and admirals are asking for money to replace aging, and increasingly non-functional, equipment. Although Brazil (the largest and most populous nation in Latin America) has the largest military (290,000 troops), it's weapons and equipment are pathetic. More to the point, most of their stuff is barely operational, if at all. For example, less than half the navy's ships (10 out of 21) are operational. Nearly 90 percent of air force planes are 15 or more years old. Low pay makes it difficult for the air force to retain technicians and aircraft maintainers.

But what is most likely to get the military more money is a growing concern, among civilians and the troops, that some of the neighbors are of a mind to rearrange some national borders, especially where it concerns the Amazon river basin (which is shared with Peru, Colombia and Venezuela). Brazilian officers see Venezuela starting an arms race, and feel they are one of the targets for all these new weapons.

Brazil has not got a lot of oil, although recently discovered deposits might yield a trillion dollars worth of oil and gas. But that new stuff won't start generating a lot of cash for a decade, and right now, the military would like some new rifles, trucks and machine-guns. Defending the Amazon would require a lot of aircraft, helicopters and small patrol boats. Most worrisome to the Brazilian Air Force is Venezuela buying top line jet fighter (Russian Su-30s). Brazil has nothing to match two dozen of these jets. A handful of 1980s vintage Mirages, and dozens of 1970s era F-5s would get chewed up pretty fast by these modern Russian fighters.

Then again, it makes no sense to attack the largest country in South America. Those who have tried it in the past, have regretted it. But Venezuela is currently run by a guy with a big wallet, big plans and a big mouth. That's what usually precedes a pointless military adventure. Brazil has to be ready, but is unsure how much "ready" it can afford.




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