As emerging economies, the BRICS countries face a specific set of challenges, but are also uniquely placed to act on the opportunities that the fourth industrial revolution presents. At the 5th annual BRICS Astronomy Working Group (BAWG) meeting held in 2019 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, representatives from the BRICS countries, based on input from their astronomical communities, agreed to develop a Flagship project taking advantage of the combined scientific, technological and engineering expertise of the BRICS member states to meet these challenges and provide a world-class facility for astronomical research.

The BRICS Intelligent Telescope and Data Network (BITDN) is a collaborative scientific enterprise, drawing on the strengths of all five BRICS partners, while at the same time seeking to address in-country socioeconomic development challenges. The Flagship scientific programme will develop a network of astronomical telescopes, some already existing, and an associated intelligent data network which is the enabler for the science programme. This will leverage existing and planned new telescope and cyber facilities within the BRICS countries and will also draw on the opportunities presented by other multi-wavelength space- and ground-based facilities within, or accessed by, the BRICS countries.

Thanks to their unique, worldwide geographical distribution, BRICS countries are well placed to take a global lead in the rapidly expanding domain of wide-field multi-wavelength imaging sky surveys and the detection and study of transient and time-variable phenomena in the Universe, as well as technical solutions to the associated enormous Big Data and Big Compute challenges. This ambitious plan for a global network of optical telescopes, with the unprecedented ability to observe the entire sky continuously on a timescale of less than an hour, will greatly increase our ability to monitor the changing cosmos.