UAE ready to buy combat aircraft from Brazil

South American country says draft pact will be ready within weeks in move that may lead to Emirates buying transport and combat planes.

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DUBAI // The UAE and Brazil are crafting a wide-ranging defence cooperation pact that could see the Emirates purchase transport and light combat aircraft from the South American country. Within two weeks, Brazil will present an agreement to the UAE as a precursor for "an umbrella agreement between our two countries on cooperation in the military field", Nelson Jobim, Brazil's defence minister, told reporters yesterday.

"We put on the table all possibilities of cooperation from the UAE side and from the Brazilian side. Those are very frank and transparent conversations," he said. The deal centres on the sale of the light Super Tucano turboprop aircraft and contributions to the development of the KC-390 transport aircraft, as well as training programmes for Emirati and Brazilian officers. Once the UAE revises the agreement, the Emiratis and Brazilians will collaborate on its specifics. Mr Jobim said he hoped the deal could be signed within two months of a draft.

Brazil is a major weapons importer. It topped the list of developing nations in arms-transfer agreements, signing deals worth US$7.2 billion (Dh26.4bn) last year, according to a recent report for the US Congress. The deal with the UAE would represent the first significant foray for Brazil into the Gulf since the 1980s, when its defence industry suffered a major setback at the end of the Iran-Iraq War. Brazil was a major arms supplier to Saddam Hussein's regime at the time.

A centrepiece of the deal is the KC-390, a transport plane made by the Brazilian manufacturer Embraer that can carry 21 tonnes of cargo. Its first two prototypes will be ready in 2014 or 2015, and it will be available on the market by 2018. Brazil hopes to fill the void that will be left by the 50-year-old C-130 Hercules transport plane. Mr Jobim estimates that 1,500 of the US-made C-130s will need to be retired between 2018 and 2020.

A main part of any potential agreement would include inviting UAE companies to set up joint projects or ventures with Brazilian defence contractors as a way of "creating national capability in the defence industry", Mr Jobim said. "The UAE authorities have shown an interest in participating in designing and programming of the KC-390," Mr Jobim said. Dr Mustafa Alani, a security expert at the Gulf Research Centre in Dubai, said the UAE could use transport aircraft in its expanding array of humanitarian missions.

UAE forces are increasingly mobile and participate in peacekeeping, so they need versatile transport planes, Dr Alani said. He said the trend in defence contracting now involves having a "local dimension", which is why joint ventures are an important component of any deal. The UAE has also shown interest in the Super Tucano, a light Brazilian combat aircraft. Mr Jobim said the plane would be ideal for counter-insurgency operations as well as maintaining border security and combating drug trafficking.

Mr Jobim said details of how many aircraft the UAE could acquire or the monetary value of such a deal had not been worked out yet, and a decision on orders could only be made after the joint taskforces were held. The planes "will need to abide by the specs and requirements of the UAE airforce", he said.