Latin American projects face COVID-19 problems
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic will affect future defence procurement projects in Latin America, as regional governments and militaries restructure their priorities.
One of the first structural casualties occurred in Argentina, as the acquisition of FA-50 Fighting Eagle light attack aircraft, built by Korea Aerospace Industries, has been cancelled.
Other defence forces are in the same situation. For example, the commandant of the Belize Coast Guard stated that due to the pandemic and its effects on the national economy, ‘our emoluments will be affected, [and] our material supply, maintenance and to a certain degree our operating cost will be affected’.
The Chilean Navy in April received two used Adelaide-class frigates to replace its L-class ships, and the service also plans to construct amphibious landing vessels to replace ageing ships such as the transport vessel Aquiles, which was built in the 1980s. However, it is likely that the government’s new COVID-19 economic plan – in which funds will be diverted to protect citizens, businesses and industries – will delay this building plan.
Shephard understands that the coronavirus pandemic is causing Peru to further delay plans to acquire new tanks and other hardware for the army, even though its T-55 tank fleet is in dire need of replacement. Nevertheless, the armed forces will continue to procure spare parts for the maintenance and repair of their equipment, including their Sukhoi Su-25 ground attack aircraft and helicopters.
Some procurement initiatives are too far advanced to be cancelled. These include the ambitious PROSUB submarine programme in Brazil; the construction of a second landing platform dock (BAP Paita) by the Peruvian shipyard SIMA; and Chile’s domestically manufactured icebreaker, which is scheduled for completion by 2023. The Ecuadorian shipyard Astinave is continuing construction of a multipurpose vessel, though the pandemic is causing construction delays.
Additionally, in spite of putting on hold the acquisition of FA-50 aircraft, the Argentine air force will reportedly carry on with other projects, such as acquiring a B-737-300 transport aircraft.
It must be emphasised that not all delays and cancellations can be blamed solely on COVID-19. For example, the construction for Brazil of four Scorpène-class submarines and one nuclear-powered boat has experienced several delays, due to the various economic crises since Brazil and France signed an agreement in 2008.
One option is to delay construction of four Tamandaré-class corvettes in order to divert funds for the submarines, which are a higher priority for the Brazilian Navy.
Internal politics also play a part. In Argentina, for example, Andrei Serbin Pont, director of the regional think tank CRIES and member of the Fundación Argentina Global, explained to Shephard that the pandemic will allow the government of Alberto Fernandez to cancel some projects inherited from the Macri presidency.
Pont mentioned the FA-50 deal as a prime example, given its lack of support from defence minister Agustín Rossi. He added that it is very unlikely that the government will a acquire new or second-hand submarine to replace ARA San Juan, which was lost in a 2017 accident, given that the COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating pre-existing economic problems in Argentina.
In the same vein, an analyst associated with the Mexican Navy explained to Shephard that he does not foresee the service acquiring any major vessels, such as additional long-range oceanic patrol (POLA) vessels, in the next four years.
This is due not only to the effects of coronavirus but also reflects an overall lack of interest from the Obrador presidency in major defence acquisition programmes. Only one POLA ship (Benito Juárez) has been completed for the navy to date.
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