Brazil's F-X2 fighter programme could be the subject of further delays, after a summary of the air force's 30,000-page evaluation report was leaked to one of the country's leading newspapers.
The Folha de São Paulo newspaper reported that the air force's F-X2 procurement programme committee has ranked Saab's Gripen NG as its first-choice candidate for the deal, initially for 36 aircraft, due to its lowest acquisition and operating costs. It is followed closely by Boeing's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Block II.
The report confirms rumours that have been floating since October 2009 and heightens tensions between the air force and President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Late last year the Brazilian president stated his preference for the Dassault Rafale, which was reportedly ranked third by the service.
Air force sources have raised concerns that a decision could be deferred until after this year's presidential elections, or that the long-running fighter selection process could be postponed again.
© Katsuhiko Tokunaga/Gripen International
The leaked summary suggests that the F3-standard Rafale was ranked last because of its high purchase price and operating costs. A related technology transfer package - a key element of the F-X2 selection criteria - was also deemed inadequate, the report says. Embraer is believed to have shown little interest in participating in production of the Rafale, after it was offered the opportunity to manufacture the wings for Brazilian examples.
Saab claims that its Gripen NG proposal - which is backed by the governments of Sweden and the UK - will provide higher technology transfer yield for Brazilian companies. Selex Galileo on 5 January announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with local firm ATMOS Sistemas to develop active electronically scanned array radar technologies to Brazil.
Selex, which is developing its Vixen 1000E/Raven ES-05 for use with the Gripen NG, says the relationship could also cover AESA systems for other fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and unmanned air vehicles.
Following the news report, the air force issued a statement saying that while its evaluation report of the fighters has been completed, it has not yet been forwarded to the defence ministry for assessment. A Dassault source says that such local press reports should be "handled with caution".
Although the F-X2 programme initially covers the purchase of 28 single-seat fighters and eight mission-capable trainers to equip three squadrons, it could eventually rise to up to 120 aircraft. The selected type will replace the air force's Alenia/Embraer AMX strike aircraft, upgraded Northrop F-5EM/FMs and Dassault Mirage 2000C fighters.