Brazil Considers C-390 Conversion as P-3 AM Replacement Looms

Embraer and the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) are looking into modifying existing Embraer aircraft for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. This could be a replacement for the aging P-3 AM aircraft currently operated by FAB. Boeing is offering their P-8A Poseidon, but Embraer's C-390 is a strong contender due to its versatility and existing presence in the FAB.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

Embraer and the Brazilian Air Force (FAB—Força Aérea Brasileira) announced the start of collaborative studies to identify possible platform adaptations for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. The studies will focus on the potential adaptation of current aircraft for ISR purposes.

The Brazilian Air Force already operates the platforms, including the C-390 Millennium. The announcement occurred at the International Air and Space Fair (FIDAE) in the presence of Bosco da Costa Junior, President and CEO of Embraer Defense & Security, and Air Lieutenant General Marcelo Kanitz Damasceno, Commander of the Air Force.

In the early 2000s, Brazil acquired twelve second-hand P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft from the US Navy. At the time, plans were to modernize nine P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft to the P-3 AM standard and cannibalize the remaining three to provide spare parts.

Airbus Military, now part of Airbus Defense & Space, modernized these nine P-3C Orions and delivered the final P-3 AM to the Brazilian Air Force in 2014. This operation involved upgrading their avionics, installing the FITS (Fully Integrated Tactical System), a new sensor suite, and updating their communication systems.

This program was part of Brazil’s new military strategy, which relied on the concept of “Amazônia Azul” (Blue Amazon). This term refers to a vast area comprising Brazil’s territorial waters, contiguous zone, and exclusive economic zone (EEZ), covering 4.5 million sq km and containing 90% of its oil reserves. Additionally, maritime routes conduct 95% of Brazil’s foreign trade.

Furthermore, the FAB also operates around twenty “light” maritime patrol aircraft of the EMB-111 “EMB 111 “Bandeirante Patrulha” type, which, despite recent upgrades including the integration of a Seaspray 5000E radar, are nearing the end of their operational life after over fifty years of service.

Regardless, the question of replacing the P-3 AM arises within the FAB, especially considering the increasing cost of maintaining it in operational condition. Moreover, it would require further modernization. Hence, there is an intention to launch a program to find its successor.

Boeing expressed interest in Brazil as a significant opportunity for its P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft during the FIDAE 2024 aerospace exhibition in Chile, putting pressure on Brasilia.

Janes quotes Tim Flood, Boeing’s vice president for commercial development in Europe and the Americas, saying that the Brazilian government must decide when to begin its procurement process and how long it plans to operate its P-3s before retiring from service. He said the company is building P-8s today and will not build them forever. He told the Brazilians that the Boeing production line has a limited lifespan.

In the competition, Airbus Defense & Space could also offer the maritime patrol variant (MPA) of the C-295, considering that the FAB already operates around a dozen of them for search and rescue missions. Airbus might also propose the A320neo.

However, it is uncertain whether Brasilia intends to issue a tender. On April 10, Embraer announced that the Brazilian military had tasked them with studies to adapt their C-390 Millennium transport aircraft for ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) missions.

However, Embraer’s illustration during the show, showing a C-390 armed with anti-ship missiles and labeled MPA (Maritime Patrol Aircraft), left no doubt about its ambitions.

General Marcelo Kanitz Damasceno, the commander of the Brazilian Air Force, said the Brazilian Air Force ensures it can fully fulfill its missions while considering future challenges and technological advancements. He added that exploring the possibility of adapting Embraer platforms is a way to strengthen its technological autonomy.

For Embraer, which has already sold its C-390 to six other countries and could expand this list in the coming months, the goal is to broaden its portfolio of solutions to meet the operational needs” of the FAB and “potential international clients alike.

The C-390, with a 26-ton capacity, can carry more payload than other medium-sized military transport aircraft. At 470 knots, it flies faster and farther. It can perform a wider range of missions, including cargo and troop transport and delivery, aeromedical evacuation, search and rescue, firefighting, and humanitarian missions, including operations on unpaved runways and surfaces like compacted soil and gravel. The aircraft was selected by South Korea, the Czech Republic, Austria, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Brazil.

The current fleet of aircraft in operation has accumulated over 11,500 flight hours, with operational availability close to 80% and mission completion rates exceeding 99%, demonstrating exceptional productivity in its category.

Previously, Embraer planned to adapt the E190-E2 for maritime patrol missions (MPA). Joao Bosco Costa Junior, head of Embraer Defense & Security, spoke with the US aviation portal Aviation Week, saying that the company is looking for international partners. He said Embraer is already in talks with other companies that could participate in the development of the ‘P190 E2’.

The model features a pair of Pratt & Whitney 1900G engines, has a range of over 5200 km, and can carry 114 passengers in its single-class configuration. Embraer has already delivered the aircraft, all to customers abroad.

One possible configuration of the E190-E2 patrol aircraft included a downward-oriented dome, anti-ship missiles installed on the underside of the plane, modifications to the rear fuselage section, where sonobuoys would be carried, and equipment used to detect submarines. The C-390 MPA illustration exhibits this pattern.


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