This first appeared as a Comment in the 7 January issue of Flight International
With its complex plot elements having included political and military infighting, financial crises and a jilted European partner, Brazil’s lengthy saga of selecting a new fighter has at times read like the script for one of the nation’s popular soap operas.
After an initial competitive process which failed to match its fiscal abilities at the time, the F-X2 contest seemed to be near an end as far back as 2009, when a selection tryst between the then Brazilian and French presidents pointed to a likely victory for the Dassault Rafale. But fast-forward four years to a new political climate, and a hastily-ordered press conference on 18 December 2013 delivered a killer twist: the surprise selection of Saab’s developmental Gripen NG.
Despite the long wait, the announcement seemed to catch everyone unprepared. Earlier the same day Saab announced its receipt of an order to upgrade 60 Gripen Cs to the enhanced E-model standard for the Swedish air force. With Brazil’s backing, and that of another planned buyer, Switzerland, production of the fighter should now be safeguarded beyond 2023.
The importance of winning in Brazil was clear by Saab’s delight – and by the frustration in a swiftly-penned statement from Dassault. This pointed to the Rafale’s greater combat performance – and heftier price tag – but perhaps confused the issue of US content. With its eye firmly on export sales, its Swedish rival has done much to replace sales-restricted items found in its earlier aircraft, and can now offer full rights for a new customer to build and modify the type.
So, is this the final act for Brazil’s at-times tortuous F-X process? With the Gripen NG’s selection being backed by the nation’s air force the signs appear positive, but there may some tough discussions during the final contract negotiations, which are likely to run through at least the next 10 months.
Dassault knows only too well that a selection does not always lead to ink on the page, and Saab and the Swedish government will be pushed hard to give the Brazilian air force and aerospace champion Embraer the full access they demand to Gripen technologies.
If they succeed, mutual benefits – potentially on a fifth-generation fighter design – could follow.
Brazil’s soap opera-style procurement is of course by no means unique. The very next day’s episode – this time set in the United Arab Emirates – saw a UK-led effort to sell the Eurofighter Typhoon abruptly written out of the script. Never a dull moment.