Embraer Defense Analyzes New UAS, Military Transport Projects
Unmanned aircraft systems and a hybrid-electric military transport could be added this year to Embraer’s bulging portfolio of defense platforms, the company’s chief executive said in an exclusive interview.
Eight months since planned joint ventures with Boeing on Embraer’s commercial business and the KC-390 military transport fell apart in acrimony, the Brazilian manufacturer remains focused on broadening its portfolio of defense products, which include a partnership with Saab to design a two-seat version of the Gripen JAS 39, as well as developing airborne-early-warning-and-control aircraft, a light-attack fighter and small satellites.
- Embraer may announce new family of UAS
- Brazilian air force unveils STOUT concept
The first project that could be revealed later this year is a revived program to develop a large UAS for the Brazilian military. It would follow the Harpia joint venture formed in 2011 with Elbit Systems subsidiary AEL Sistemas and Avibras, which halted development five years later amid government spending constraints.
“We believe that this market—we have to be there,” says Jackson Schneider, CEO of Embraer Defense and Security. “Perhaps we will be able to announce something in 10 months.”
The former Harpia joint venture provided few details about the UAS program, except to release a concept image of a single-engine, twin-boom design. The medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft was aimed at providing surveillance of Brazil’s remote western borders with a beyond-line-of-sight control link.
Any future program may avoid focusing on a single-platform solution for a new UAS and focusing only on the defense market for applications, Schneider says.
“We are analyzing a full family,” Schneider says. “Defense is already a market where this product is more than a concept; it’s required. And the other markets perhaps will need more time to trust this technology.”
Applying military-funded projects to the commercial market—and vice versa—has been Embraer’s modus operandi since its founding 52 years ago. The Brazilian Air Force established Embraer to market a military transport called the C-95 Bandeirante to airlines as the EMB 110. The follow-on EMB 120 was designed for the commercial market but also sold to the air force as the C-97 transport.
As the C-95 and C-97 fleets approach retirement, a new concept has emerged to replace them. The Short Take-Off Utility Transport (STOUT) concept was unveiled in November by Gen. Antonio Moretti Bermudez, the air force commander. Embraer, and the air force signed a memorandum of understanding in December 2019 to begin research for such an aircraft.
The concept revealed in November shows an aircraft with a T-tail and a fuselage roughly comparable in length to the 65-ft. 7-in. (20-m) EMB 120, although wider. The STOUT aircraft also would use a hybrid-electric propulsion system with four propulsors fed by two gas generators on the inboard wing stations. The air force requirements include an aircraft that can operate on the unpaved landing strips of Brazil’s Amazon region while carrying up to 6,600 lb. (3,000 kg.) of cargo.
So far, the air force has supported only research and concept studies, but a funded development program could be a natural follow-on to completing deliveries of all 36 F-39E/F Gripens and 28 KC-390s to Brazil, which are scheduled in 2026 and 2027, respectively.
At this point, Embraer is seeking to reapply the familiar development model: a military transport program with dual-use applications in the commercial market. The same design requirement to operate from unpaved landing strips in the Amazon may be relevant in certain commercial markets such as countries comprising many islands, Schneider says.
Its hybrid-electric propulsion system also may provide a more environmentally friendly alternative for inter-urban transports, he notes. “This is what we are analyzing,” he says.
If the UAS and STOUT projects move into production, Embraer would gain two new defense platforms in the second half of the decade.
At the moment, Embraer’s defense production facility in Gaviao Peixoto, Brazil, is assembling the first locally built Saab Gripen F-39E for rollout later this year as well as KC-390s for Brazil, Portugal and Hungary and A-29 Super Tucano light-attack aircraft.
Only a year ago, Embraer planned to join forces with Boeing to establish a joint venture to market the KC-390 in international markets, particularly the U.S. When Boeing severed the commercial and KC-390 joint ventures in April 2020, the U.S. company noted that a 2016 agreement to market the KC-390 outside a joint venture remained in effect. Both companies are still discussing the future of the KC-390 marketing relationship, Schneider says, but he adds: “I cannot elaborate more on it.”