UPDATED: Brazil plays down reports of Rafale announcement

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Brazil's defence ministry has denied suggestions that it will soon make an announcement confirming the selection of Dassault's Rafale to meet its air force's 36-aircraft F-X2 fighter requirement.

Sources in Brasilia had suggested that a final decision was made by Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and defence minister Nelson Jobim following meetings held with Dassault and French government representatives on 30 January, but the defence ministry on 4 February issued a denial.

Jobim says the air force command filed its final evaluation report on 6 January, and that the defence ministry is continuing its analysis of “the political, strategic and financial aspects” of the respective offers.

This process “will also take under consideration other items of information submitted by the participating governments and the bidding contenders,” he says. “As soon as the process is finished, the defence ministry will submit its conclusions to the president.”

The Brazilian Senate’s Defence and Foreign Relations Committee has asked Jobim to clarify and provide further information regarding the F-X2 programme, while Boeing and Saab are understood to have asked to submit new proposals on their respective F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Gripen NG designs in the light of Dassault’s last-minute negotiations.

Local reports on 4 February had suggested that the meetings with French officials had led to a substantial cost reduction, and claimed the package's value had been cut from $8.2 billion to around $6.2 billion. Price negotiations have been seen as the major obstacle to a Rafale victory since da Silva prematurely announced the type's selection with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy last September.

 
© Dassault
Brazil will receive 36 Rafale B/Cs in the F3 production standard

Da Silva and Jobim's oft-stated preference stems in part from their desire to further a strategic partnership agreed with France last year, and to the perceived difficulties with acquiring US-manufactured equipment. The latter concern was evidenced in 2006, when Washington vetoed the planned sale of Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano turboprop trainers to Venezuela. This bolstered fears that the US government could impose future restrictions should the Super Hornet or Gripen NG be selected.

If approved, a deal with France will lead to the delivery of 28 single-seat Rafale Cs and eight B-model trainers built to Dassault's F3 production standard, plus armaments including MBDA MICA IR/EM and Magic II air-to-air missiles, and Sagem AASM precision-guided bombs.

The Rafale's wings would also likely be manufactured in Brazil, along with modules for its Thales RBE2 active electronically scanned array radar.

Dassault has not commented on the matter, while the Brazilian air force says it "has not been officially notified of any decision".

But confirmation of a deal could spark considerable controversy during a presidential election year, and especially because the air force's year-long evaluation of the candidates placed the Gripen NG first and the Rafale last.

A $6.2 billion price tag would also make the Rafale package around 40% more expensive than Saab's final offer, and industry sources say France has offered a far lower technology transfer yield and fewer new jobs than Sweden or the USA.

Read Peter Collins' flight test report on the Dassault Rafale