Since 2014, JF-17 Thunder multi-role fighter jets, jointly developed by China and Pakistan, and the French-made Dassault Mirage III and IV of the Pakistan Air Force have been equipped to fly with an intelligent weapon: the MAR-1 anti-radiation missile. The aircraft-launched missile is used against anti-air defense and targets ground radar, which is critical in identifying hostile aircraft positions. Considered a sophisticated weapon, the MAR-1 was designed and developed by the Brazilian company Mectron, one of only four companies in the world that have mastered the technology to manufacture the weapon – the other three are Raytheon and Alliant Techsystems in the U.S. and Zvesdat in Russia.
“We are the only Brazilian company capable of designing missiles. Development of the MAR-1 represented a huge challenge to the domestic arms industry and it was met with the multidisciplinary intellectual capital we have here at Mectron,” says 57-year-old aeronautical engineer Wagner Campos do Amaral Silva, company director as well as one of its founders. “The missile will also be installed in Brazilian Air Force (FAB) AMX fighters, recently overhauled and updated by Embraer.” The MAR-1 project dates back to 1998, when Mectron first began to develop the weapon for FAB. Ten years later, it signed an export agreement with Pakistan.
The company is headquartered in São José dos Campos, Brazil’s aerospace industry hub, and operates in the defense, aviation and space markets, developing and manufacturing high technology products for both military and civilian applications. Established in the early 1990s by five engineering graduates of the Technological Institute of Aeronautics (ITA), the company was bought out in 2011 by Odebrecht Defesa e Tecnologia (ODT), the arm of the Odebrecht organization that is devoted to developing technological solutions for the Brazilian military.
|São José dos Campos, SP|
|Nº of Employees|
Intelligent weaponry, radar, communications systems and satellite equipment
With annual sales of R$124.7 million in 2014, Mectron has a well-established research and development (R&D) department. In 2014 year, 52% of company revenues, equivalent to R$65.5 million, were directed towards R&D and innovation. That does not include the subsidies received under Brazilian Innovation Agency (FINEP) projects, totaling R$6.2 million. To design and build equipment such as intelligent weapons, radar, communications and avionics systems, the company calls on a specialized corps of collaborators. Of its 405 employees, nearly 300 – 178 of them engineers – are assigned to the R&D department. Approximately 70% of employees hold university degrees, 22% of which are graduate degrees. Computer Engineer Henrique Mohallem Paiva, 36, is part of this group. After earning his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD at ITA, he completed a postdoc at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada.
“My graduate studies were devoted to signal processing and automatic control systems. I continue to study and publish scientific articles as both a CNPq [National Council for Scientific and Technological Development] research productivity fellow and an ITA researcher. The academic knowledge I have acquired is directly applicable to my activities as an engineer because I work in an industry that requires a solid theoretical background,” Mohallem says. A Mectron employee since 2010, he works on the MAR-1 project, and is responsible for computer simulation of the missile and its sub-systems as well as for design of automatic control systems.
Engineer Marta Cristina Suarez Garcia, 28, is also part of the MAR-1 Program. She coordinates certification of the actuator, which is the sub-system responsible for independent deflection of the aerodynamic surfaces used to control missile flight maneuvers. With an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the São Paulo School of Engineering (FESP) and a master’s degree from the Poytechnic School of the University of São Paulo (Poli-USP), she began her work as a trainee at Mectron in 2012. “I originally worked in industrial engineering, implementing improvements in production and manufacturing processes. Then I was invited to join the MAR-1 team,” Garcia says.
Estimated at R$500 million, MAR-1 is the largest but not the only project under development in the laboratories of Mectron. The department of intelligent weaponry, the company’s largest department, is building two additional air-to-air missiles (launched from one aircraft to destroy another): the MAA-1B and A-Darter models. The former is an updated version of the Piranha missile Mectron manufactured in the 1990s. “The Piranha project began at FAB in the 1970s, but suffered from inadequate funding, embargoes on imported components and the demise of private companies that were unable to survive the industry crisis in the 1980s. It was up to us to complete its development, modernize it and obtain certification and accreditation of the systems for use on the F-5 and F-5M fighters, as well as the lots ordered by FAB,” Wagner Silva recalls.
The A-Darter is currently under joint development by South Africa’s Denel Dynamics and Brazil’s Opto Eletrônica and Avibras companies. The missile features multiple infrared sensors for thermal imaging of air space, which increases the missile’s capacity to detect and track targets. Now in the manufacturing stage, the A-Darter will equip the state-of-the-art multifunctional Gripen NG jets FAB acquired from the Swedish company, Saab, in 2013.
Like FAB, the Brazilian Navy is an important client of Mectron. For the naval force, the company is developing an anti-ship missile known as MAN-SUP, as well as a heavyweight torpedo known in the defense industry as TPNer. Made in partnership with the German company Atlas Elektronik, the TPNer is used by submarines against squadrons. “Our strength lies in systems engineering. We have developed and produced the weapon’s embedded electronics, which include on-board computer systems, sensors and command actuators,” Wagner Silva explains. The TPNer manufacturing time frame is eight years. None of the budgets for of any of these projects are available to the public.
The goal of MAN-SUP is development of a national anti-ship missile to be launched from one vessel against another, for open-sea combat, explains Cesar Augusto Buonomo, 40, an aeronautical engineer and technical coordinator of the program at Mectron. With a master’s degree in aerodynamics, he explains that it is up to his team to develop the sub-system for missile guidance, navigation and control. Several of the technologies used, such as altimeter radar for measuring the distance from the missile to the ocean surface, the system that activates the control aerodynamic surfaces for the conduct of maneuvers and the computers to perform trajectory calculations, are solutions being developed by Mectron researchers. Other Brazilian defense companies, including Avibras and Omnisys, are responsible for developing the remaining sub-systems.
Electronics engineer, Aristóteles de Sousa Carvalho, 56, heads up the MAN-SUP program radiofrequency department where he oversees a team of four. “The knowledge I acquired during graduate school at the University of Sheffield in England was key in facing the challenges of developing the MAN-SUP radiofrequency sub-systems,” he says. The program, scheduled to be completed in 2017, is expected to give the Brazilian Navy autonomy with regard to this weapon. In the meantime, the Navy has revitalized its old French-made Exocet missiles, and the Air Force has decided to purchase Harpoon missiles from Boeing.
In addition to cutting-edge missiles and torpedoes, Mectron engineers and technicians are also involved in developing a data-link communication system called Link BR-2 for military use. Designed for FAB, the system will integrate and conduct real-time processing of information exchanges between aircraft and command and control centers with encrypted data, voice and images. Estimated at R$250 million the project is in its final stages of development.
Mectron’s activities also extend to the space industry. The company was a member of the consortium responsible for construction of the CBERS-4, the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite 4, successfully launched in December 2014 from the Taiwan Launch Center in China. Company researchers were charged with the design and manufacture of the Digital Data Recorder (DDR), the equipment that stores the land images captured by the satellite cameras. The CBERS-4 is equipped with four high-definition cameras designed to collect images of Brazilian territory, especially the Amazon Region, aiding in the fight against illegal deforestation and burning.
Researchers from Mectron are involved in developing a Multi-Mission Platform (MMP) for Brazilian Space Program low altitude satellites. The MMP is a basic framework for use in building different types of satellites and the company is manufacturing two MMP sub-systems: the power supply that features solar panels and their servo-positioners, batteries and conditioning and distribution units; and the system for tracking, telemetry and telecommand, which includes transponders and antennas.
On a site measuring 37,000 m² next to Embraer and the National Institute for Space Research (INPE), Mectron facilities include a cleanroom for assembling critical components, electronics, avionic, radiofrequency and communication systems laboratories in addition to mechanical assembly, mechatronic integration and environmental testing areas. In 2007, the company registered its only patent, related to the development of a broadband antenna for the MAR-1 missile. “In the defense market, it’s not practical to work with patent filings,” Silva says.
A recurring problem faced by other companies in the defense industry has also affected Mectron. “We came up with the idea to purchase an antenna from a North American supplier, but the U.S. Department of Defense prevented us from closing the deal because it considers antennas to be critical components and it would not authorize Brazil to have access to this technology,” Wagner recalls. “We found a way out by having our own staff develop the component. That’s just one example of the myriad situations we face on a daily basis.”Republish