Just when we were starting to think that 2013 was maybe heading into a graceful news wind-down, Brazil surprised us by announcing that it would be making a decision in its FX-2 contest today – and then surprised us again by picking Saab’s Gripen NG.
The timing of this came as a complete surprise to me, and I suspect probably to the companies involved too. The Swedish manufacturer had already had a busy and successful day, announcing the signature of a deal worth $2.5 billion to modify 60 of the Swedish air force’s Gripen Cs to its enhanced E-model configuration, for delivery from 2018. There may well be some champagne corks popping in chilly Linköping this evening, although final contract negotiations in Brazil have some months to run yet.
For headline-generating potential, FX-2 has never disappointed – remember that ill-fated Team Rafale victory announcement made by then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy way back in 2009? It would be wrong to berate Dassault for not having subsequently clinched the planned 36-aircraft deal though, as the announcement was a political one, and opposed even at that time by the Brazilian air force. Ultimately, Brazil wanted a successor for its Northrop F-5s, and that is the job that the Gripen (Saab image above) is right-sized to achieve, versus twin-engined rivals the Rafale and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
So, has the long-running FX-2 process reached its conclusion, or will further twists await us over the next few months? And is Brazil going for the right fighter to meet its needs; militarily, economically and politically? With Saab promising full freedom to integrate its own systems – as on the F-5EM – it looks like that could well be the case, despite Dassault’s protestations of having a more capable product.