Brazil’s long battle to find a fighter

This article first appeared as a Comment in the 16 April issue of Flight International

The Brazilian air force began a fighter replacement programme more than 15 years ago, and is still waiting. Its leadership is getting impatient. Breaking from a tight-lipped approach to the F-X2 acquisition, the air force’s Maj Gen Carlos de Almeida Baptista – departing requirements officer for combat aircraft and the son of a recent commander of the service – vented his frustration in a farewell address on 4 April.

Baptista did not blame politicians, even though it would have been understandable. It was former president Inácio Lula da Silva who derailed a careful selection process by the air force in 2009, when he announced at a press conference about submarines that Brazil would buy the Dassault Rafale. That came as a shock to the air force, which had not yet forwarded a recommendation. And it is Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, who has kept the programme on hold while she focuses on stabilising Brazil’s wild economic ride of recent years. Instead, Baptista aimed his comments at Brazilian industry, which he implicated in stalling F-X2 over concerns about technology transfer.

If true, Baptista may have a point. Brazil is not the only developing country that prizes industrial development over military capability, but this is often at the cost of neglecting operational need. The time has come to make a decision on a new Brazilian fighter, and this time let no one stand in the way.

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