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Brazil builds Russian defense ties with missile plan

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Brazil is pushing ahead with a planned $1 billion purchase of anti-aircraft missile batteries from Russia in a deal that will cement a strategic defense partnership between the two BRICS nations, the Brazilian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.

Brazilian officials said they expect to sign a contract by the middle of 2014 for short- to medium-range surface-to-air Pantsir S1 missile batteries and Igla-S shoulder-held missiles.

In December, Brazil bought 12 Mi-35 attack helicopters - a type dubbed the 'flying tank' - in its first purchase from Russia of military hardware. The rising Latin American power has traditionally obtained its weapons from the United States and Europe.

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, on a visit to Peru and Brazil to promote sales of Russian weaponry, also proposed in Brasilia the joint development of a fifth-generation fighter jet, defence officials said.

Brazil's Air Force has been looking for a decade to buy 36 fourth-generation jets to replace its aging fighter fleet, but Russia's Sukhoi Su-35 is not currently in the running for the contract worth more than $4 billion.

The selection process is already underway and will not be reopened, Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim said after meeting with Shoigu. Amorim said he hopes President Dilma Rousseff will decide "soon" between Boeing Co.'s F-18 Super Hornet, the Rafale made France's Dassault Aviation SA and the Gripen offered by Sweden's Saab AB.

Amorim told reporters Brazil was nevertheless interested in discussing the development of a future jet fighter with new partners.

"More than buying military equipment, what we are seeking with Russia is a strategic partnership based on the joint development of technology," Amorim said.

The terms of the deal that was first proposed in February during a visit to Brazil by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev require Russia to transfer the technology to build the anti-aircraft batteries to Brazilian defense companies without restriction.

Amorim said defense cooperation between the two members of the BRICS group of leading emerging nations, which also includes China, India and South Africa, could "counterbalance" other options that Brazil wants to keep open - a reference to traditional arms suppliers such as the United States.

Amorim said Russia and Brazil would also look at working together on space technology and on defense against cyber attacks, an area that has become a Brazilian priority since disclosures that the U.S. National Security Agency has spied on Brazilians, their president and the country's largest oil company.

The purchase of anti-aircraft batteries is part of Brazil's effort to beef up air defenses ahead of global sports events the South American nation is preparing to host. While the Russian missiles will not be delivered in time for next year's soccer World Cup, they will be in place for the Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the defense ministry said.