Brazil's defence ministry will decide the winner of the $760 million F-XBR programme for at least 12 fighters by late March, says Embraer chief executive Mauricio Botelho. The long-delayed procurement awaits approval by several government ministries after the completion of a technical study performed by the Brazilian air force.

Embraer has teamed with Dassault to offer the Mirage 2000BR against rival teams offering the F-16C/D Block 50/52 (Lockheed Martin and Varig VEM), MiG-29SMT (RSK), JAS39 Gripen (Saab/BAE Systems) and the Su-35 (Sukhoi and Avibras).

Before the decision, Embraer production managers at the company's manufacturing and test facility at Gavio Pexioto, Brazil plan to begin assembly work on the Mirage 2000BR in August. Embraer expects to deliver one aircraft per month until July 2005, when a decision to extend the contract could allow workers to double production to two aircraft per month. The award would add at least 14 workers to the final assembly line at Gavio Pexioto.

The contract is moving forward nearly 14 months after then-president-elect Luiz Inácio Lula Da Silva postponed the tender to focus on the domestic famine relief project.

In a 9 February news briefing, Botelho defended Embraer's decision to team up with Dassault before the government had selected a platform supplier, warning that export control restrictions of rival bids could become a "disaster" for the air force. He pointed to Chile's recent purchase of F-16s that included severe restrictions imposed by the USA on the transfer of Raytheon AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles.

Source: Flight International