There are indications suggesting that Saudi Arabia is exploring a strategic move with potential implications for the future of the U.S. defense sector, particularly Lockheed Martin. Insider reports indicate that Riyadh is contemplating the acquisition of Brazilian transport aircraft, specifically the Embraer C-390 Millennium, for the Royal Saudi Air Force [RSAF]. The transaction, managed by the SAMI investment fund, involves the procurement of 33 aircraft and extends beyond mere acquisition, encompassing the establishment of a comprehensive infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. This infrastructure aims to facilitate personnel training, ensuring the proper maintenance and operational readiness of the acquired aircraft. Talks are reportedly underway regarding the establishment of a repair and overhaul center [MRO] and a final assembly line [FAL] for the Embraer C-390 Millennium within the public domain.
In a geopolitical context, the negotiations between Brazil and Saudi Arabia, initially slated for November 2023, have garnered renewed attention, especially following Saudi Arabia’s official entry into the BRICS organization. The BRICS, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, represents a significant geopolitical bloc, covering around 30% of the Earth’s land territory and housing 45% of the world’s population.
Formed in 2010 with the inclusion of South Africa in the existing BRIC group, the alliance expanded on January 1, 2024, with the inclusion of Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The BRICS nations collectively wield substantial global influence, with Brazil, Russia, India, and China standing out as leading nations in terms of population, land area, and GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity [PPP].
All five founding BRICS countries are members of the G20, underscoring their economic prowess. Together, their nominal GDP constitutes nearly US$28 trillion, approximately 27% of the global gross product. Furthermore, their total GDP based on PPP reaches around US$57 trillion, representing 33% of the global GDP PPP. As of 2018, these nations held an estimated US$4.5 trillion in foreign reserves collectively.
Reports from Spain suggest that the envisioned acquisition of Brazilian transport aircraft is aimed at displacing the current fleet of U.S. transport planes within the Royal Saudi Air Force. Currently, the RSAF operates a squadron comprising 33 older Lockheed Martin C-130H Hercules and 7 KC-130H Hercules refueling aircraft. Additionally, there are two Lockheed Martin KC-130J Super Hercules serving dual roles in transportation and in-flight refueling.
The proposed plan entails a phased substitution of the existing 42 aircraft, along with 168 engines/propellers, with 33 state-of-the-art aircraft equipped with 66 IAE V2500-E5 turbofan engines. Manufactured by International Aero Engines AG, these engines are widely employed in global commercial aviation.
The ‘Brazilian’ alternative, the C-390 Millennium, emerges as a formidable contender characterized by advanced aircraft design and engineering. It outpaces the comparatively antiquated four-engine C-130J in terms of value, efficiency, and maintenance requirements, while also boasting extended flight time.
In a head-to-head comparison with the C-130J, the metrics are compelling. The C-390 Millennium can handle a cargo load 37% heavier (15 tons) over a distance 50% greater and at a speed 32% faster than its competitor. Despite these impressive statistics, it maintains versatility, adept at swiftly adapting to various mission modes, including in-flight refueling, cargo transport, and troop deployment.
The C-390 Millennium’s superiority over the C-130J Super Hercules extends across multiple domains, including operational range, acceleration to the area of interest, survivability, larger payload capacity, and reduced maintenance demands, contributing to an overall enhanced life cycle. Essentially, the C-390 Millennium represents a robust and efficient advancement over the aging Super Hercules model.
Referring to an official document from the Dutch Parliament, which draws on insights from the Dutch Air Force, the C-390 Millennium showcases a significant reduction in maintenance requirements. Specifically, it attests that the C-390 Millennium can achieve more flight hours per aircraft and demands less upkeep compared to the Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules. This lower maintenance profile can be attributed to the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and modified or military-off-the-shelf (MOTS) materials in critical systems, ensuring readily available replacement parts and reducing costs compared to the exclusive military aerospace materials employed in the C-130 Hercules.
The Embraer C-390 stands as a medium-sized, twin-engine jet-powered military transport aircraft developed by the Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer. Its versatile design caters to an array of missions, including cargo and troop transport, aerial refueling, search and rescue, as well as forest fire fighting.
Powered by two International Aero Engines V2500-E5 turbofan engines, each boasting 31,330 pounds of thrust, the C-390 possesses a maximum takeoff weight of 81,000 kilograms and a maximum payload capacity of 26,000 kilograms. With a maximum cruising speed of 470 knots and a service ceiling of 36,000 feet, the aircraft demonstrates formidable performance capabilities.
The Embraer C-390’s operational range is particularly noteworthy, enabling it to cover distances of up to 2,590 nautical miles with a 20,000-kilogram payload, while its ferry range extends to an impressive 5,290 nautical miles. This extensive reach underscores its adaptability for diverse military and humanitarian missions.
In terms of avionics, the C-390 is outfitted with cutting-edge technology, including a fly-by-wire control system that minimizes pilot workload and enhances safety. Its cockpit features a modern glass cockpit with three multifunction displays and a head-up display for each pilot.
The aircraft’s self-defense capabilities are robust, encompassing radar warning receivers, laser warning receivers, missile approach warning systems, and chaff and flare dispensers to counter incoming threats. Additionally, the C-390 incorporates an advanced cargo handling system, facilitating swift loading and unloading of cargo.
The inclusion of a rear ramp enhances the C-390’s operational flexibility, enabling airdropping of cargo and paratroopers, and facilitating medical evacuation missions. With its sturdy design and advanced systems, the Embraer C-390 emerges as a valuable asset for any air force seeking a versatile and capable military transport aircraft.