Budget constraints determine the state of South America’s defense

In 2021, the South American military remained focused on threats to homeland security, with power projection ambitions often constrained by significant equipment availability issues and funding gaps. As the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ “Investigation into Armed Conflicts 2021” underlined, organized crime continues to significantly fuel violence and instability in the region, conditioning defense spending on defense. internal security.

Brazil is the only country in the region to deploy major ongoing procurement and modernization efforts, and which is expanding international defense industrial cooperation despite its own budgetary constraints.

Most countries rely on United States support for a wide range of defense-related activities, such as procurement of equipment, personnel training, security cooperation, and fighting crime. transnational. The region is also dependent on equipment exports from European countries. However, China’s growing presence in defense and security challenges American influence in the region.

Due to the absence of recent interstate conflicts in the region, countries in South America tend to focus on counter-narcotics and internal and cross-border counter-insurgency operations.

Deployments of troops for internal security missions have increased in recent years. Several countries – namely Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Peru – have limited capacity to deploy independently beyond their national borders, but regularly contribute to United Nations peacekeeping missions, albeit Small scale.

South American navies focus on combating transnational drug trafficking, piracy and illegal fishing, and focus on preserving offshore sovereignty. Brazil has the most capable navy in the region, while Colombia has the largest in terms of number of ships, with the most patrol boats and coastal combat vessels.

Today, both countries have substantial plans to modernize their fleets. Colombia is seeking to acquire five new surface combatants and four diesel-electric submarines, although little progress has been made in this direction.

Brazil, meanwhile, is building conventionally powered attack submarines under an agreement with France for technological cooperation and construction assistance, and it plans to build the first submarine. nuclear powered southern hemisphere. A 2020 contract with German company ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems will see four new frigates built locally by the end of the decade.

Although several countries have needs for new fighter jets, only Brazil has a contracted program. The F-X2 program, with the Swedish company Saab, will see the delivery of 36 Gripen E / F fighter jets by 2024. The agreement involves significant investments in local industry; Saab has opened an aerostructures plant in Brazil and Embraer will assemble 15 of these planes. The Brazilian Air Force has previously said it needs 108 planes, although budget pressures will make that target difficult to achieve.

Argentina and Colombia are still in the process of selecting a replacement for their increasingly outdated fleet of A-4 Skyhawks and Kfirs, respectively. Argentina recently allocated $ 664 million to purchase a new fighter and is believed to have been linked to the Sino-Pakistani-made JF-17 Thunder.

Colombia is still considering several options, including the Eurofighter, Gripen E / F, F-16 Block 70 and possibly even the F-35 fighter plane.

Despite growing tensions with neighboring Venezuela – which, due to operability issues, still has the region’s most successful air combat fleet with a mix of F-16A / B and Su-30MKVs – the Colombian government could continue to postpone replacement of his Kfir to prioritize social security programs.

Some small progress has been made in space capabilities. This year, the Chilean government signed a 10-year agreement with US company SpaceX to launch 10 new satellites, eight of which will be built locally. This constellation of dual-use satellites, called the National Satellite System, will replace FASat Charlie, Chile’s first high-resolution Earth observation system, rendered unusable in 2017 by a collision with space debris.

In April 2021, as part of the Strategic Space Systems Program, the Brazilian Space Agency and the Brazilian Air Force signed an agreement with Virgin Orbit to begin the country’s first orbital launches at the Alcântara Space Center. This agreement offers Brazil the opportunity to enter the regional market for commercial space launches currently dominated by French Guyana.

In 2022, increasing budgetary tensions exacerbated by the current coronavirus pandemic will likely have a negative impact on medium- and long-term defense investments and governments’ internal security policies. If so, regional defense capabilities could continue to decline, leading to capability gaps that will leave the region unprepared for future challenges.

Amanda Lapo is associate researcher for defense and military analysis at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Juan Pablo Bickel is a research analyst focusing on conflict, security and development in Latin America for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

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