04/02/2014 Richard de Silva – Defence IQ
In March, the 33rd Motorized Infantry Battalion, under the15th Mechanized Infantry Brigade, will be receiving the first 13 VBTP-MR Guarani armoured personnel carrier, making it the first regular army unit to be issued with the new vehicle.
The initial 86 vehicles will eventually begin trials to build the doctrine for its use in service. Overall, 2,044 units have been put into production, with deliveries beginning in 2012 and due to carry on until 2030.
The delivery further marks the period of transformation taking place across the nation’s military, in conjunction with the rapid upturn of Brazil’s economic health seen in the past ten years.
Lieutenant General Luiz Felipe Linhares Gomes, head of the Army’s Project Management Office, told a Defence IQ conference this year that while the Army undergoes its sweeping transformation, the first and main area to transform is the “hearts and minds” of its own service personnel and the general public, all of whom will need to understand the intrinsic value that the military has on the wider economic and cultural make-up of the nation.
Presenting the official update to the Guarani Project at the International Armoured Vehicles event in London, Linhares explained that “here, we have the opportunity to meet several companies that maybe can work with us. In parallel, we have the opportunity to showcase our projects and maybe even to sell our products. It’s perfect.”
The General will also be speaking at the Armoured Vehicles Latin America conference in Rio de Janeiro in May, alongside other decision makers from the Army and Marine Corps as the drive continues to modernise its vehicle fleets.
Old lessons, new partners
There are seven key army modernisation projects inducing transformation, of which Guarani is just one. Linhares jokingly describes these programmes as “like my daughters – beautiful but very expensive,” but it is has been a valid concern from the outset that the endeavour has paid heed to long-term cost implications.
For the Guarani Project, specifically, a chief aim has been to transform military organisations involved in mechanised solutions for infantry and cavalry for purposes of productivity, efficiency and value for money. To accomplish this, several new families of armoured wheeled vehicles are being developed with the capacity to increase deterrence and homeland defence.
The VBTP-MR is replacing the Urutu CASCAVEL originally manufactured by ENGESA, and which have been in use for over 40 years. Designed by the Science, Technology and Innovation System of the Army, the new vehicle was developed in partnership with IVECO Defence, a subsidiary of FIAT Cars SA based in the city of Sete Lagoas.
Throughout the process, simplicity has been an important factor governing design decisions, with most of the eq coming through COTS. As a requirement, at least 60 per cent of the vehicle components have to have originated from local industry. This decision has not just been a proactive one – Engesa’s bankruptcy in 1993 has served as a dire warning, having left the country without the Urutu equipmentmanufacturing and design skills to continue development of the fleet.
“The memory of that is still raw,” Linhares admits. “We lost everything. So this approach is a safeguard.”
Other regional nations are watching Guarani developments with heightened interest and an eye to procure their own fleet. Test and evaluation of the vehicle has been taking place in a collaborative capacity between Brazil and Argentina, with the latter the next most likely recipient to purchase.
Others, including Colombia and Ecuador, are understood to be placing the vehicle in its list of possible ventures over the coming years.
At present, the vehicle is preparing to begin work on its 8x8 variant for the Marines, of which the funding and initial design have already been confirmed.
Recent reports have also confirmed that the Army’s range of 4x4 vehicles, another part of the Guarani project, is now set to be deployed in early 2015. International tender is due to be released in the second quarter of 2014, aiming towards contract finalisations in the latter part of the year. The first delivery will see “32 vehicles in a patrol configuration, along with training services, spares, and initial logistic support,” according to IHS Jane’s.
In February, the Army selected Thales for its vehicle intercom systems contract, which will see communication systems integrated onto the Guarani vehicle, as well as on the Cascavel, M113, and the refurbished Urutus, by June2014.
The system, known as ‘Sotas’, provides the hub for all data and voice communications inside the Guarani, including sensors, terminals and radios.
Hervé Derrey, Vice-President of Thales’s Radio Communication Products Business, said “Sotas is one of the most advanced communication solutions for the digitisation of the battlespace and will enable Brazilian Forces to dramatically increase situational awareness at all levels of the command structure,”