Space: Russia Invades Brazil

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April 20,2008: Russia and Brazil have agreed to jointly develop satellite launchers and a 5th generation jet fighter. Brazil has its own military aircraft industry, but the aircraft produced are generally low tech. Brazil also has satellite launching facilities. Since Brazil is on the equator, where the planet is spinning the fastest, it's a little cheaper to lift satellites into orbit. This deal appears to be mainly to attract money, subcontractors and customers for the Russian 5th generation fighter.

A year ago Russia and India agreed to collaborate on developing a fighter that can match the 5th Generation American F-22. When the Cold War ended in 1991, both the United States and Russia had already spent a decade working on designs for a "5th Generation Fighter." The Cold War ended because the Soviet Union had bankrupted itself trying to sustain an arms race it began in the 1960s. That meant a halt to work on a Russian 5th Generation Fighter. But the U.S. effort continued, and the F-22 was the result. Costing about $350 million each (development and production costs), the F-22 is the most expensive, as well as the most capable, fighter aircraft ever.

The Russians believe that, by being second, they can produce a fighter that matches the F-22 in capability, but costs far less. This will be a result of lower development costs. Some $70 billion was spent to develop the F-22. Many technologies in the F-22 can be stolen by the Russians, and other can be deduced (avoiding a lot of development trial and error, because you know something works). Russia also has some new tech that was developed near the end of the Cold War, but never put to use. Thus the new Russian fighter can be produced at, say, about a third the cost of the F-22, and far more would be built. In addition, the Russians are eager for export sales. The U.S. refuses (despite intense pressure from Israel and Japan) to export the F-22, leaving a large market for a competing fighter.

Can the Russians, Brazilians and Indians pull it off? It's not a sure thing. Russia developed some impressive fighters towards the end of the Cold War, and have kept a lot of their development teams together in the last seventeen years. This was done at great cost, because Russian fighter aircraft sales have only kicked into high gear over the past few years. So the Russians have the capability. The Indians and Brazilians are looking to upgrade their weapons development capabilities. The Russians can help. The Indian and Brazilian cooperation brings in more cash, and more export customers.

The new fighter might be closer to the F-35, than the F-22, in capabilities. But if the selling price is right, the market is there. If development costs get out of control, the effort will lose money. But the capability to develop a competitive fighter exists. The Russians want to have the first flight test by next year. The first flight of the F-22 took place in 1991, but it was another fourteen years before the aircraft entered service.

As for the satellite launching side of the Brazilian deal, the Russians would benefit by moving some of their satellite launching work from the cold Russian north, to a tropical site in Brazil. No details were released on how this part of the deal would work, which indicates more haggling is due. The Russian space operations side of this deal is more of a sure thing than building F-22ski components in Brazil.

 


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