With fewer than 500 full-text cables published by 1 December, the impact of the roughly 250,000 US diplomatic messages exposed by Wikileaks on the aerospace business remains unclear.

Even its effect on US foreign policy - undoubtedly the prime target of the massive leak - is fuzzy, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling the leak "an attack on the international community", and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates calling it "fairly overwrought" to describe the leak as a foreign policy meltdown.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cables published so far reveal the acquisition of weapon systems by foreign countries is a frequent discussion topic in US diplomatic circles.

While the majority of messages reviewed so far are focused on threats, such as the missile capabilities of Iran and North Korea, several cables describe the details of closed-door meetings in which US diplomats push their foreign counterparts to buy American technology.

The fact that such meetings occur is neither shocking nor sinister. Indeed, the Wikileaks messages reveal that much of the chatter in private, sometimes classified meetings closely mirrors the public discussion.

But the cables sometimes reveal the private thoughts of key players. For example, in a private meeting with Gen David Petraeus, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain agreed with his visitor's claim that the Dassault Rafale is "yesterday's technology", according to a dispatch dated 4 November 2009.

Hamad's comments carry some weight in the fighter business. Bahrain may be in the market to replace its fleet of Northrop F-5s. If the USA offers the Lockheed Martin F-16 or Boeing F/A-18, the Rafale is from the same era.

But if the USA offers the Lockheed F-35, it could boast offering "today's" technology. In January, a Lockheed Martin executive attending the Bahrain air show told reporters that Arab states would start buying the F-35 after Israel signs an order.

Israel's central role in Middle East weapon sales by US manufacturers was another major topic covered in several cables. The fact that Israel has some input before the USA clears weapon sales to the Middle East is not new, but the cables illuminate the process and some of the details of the negotiations.

Last month, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) informed Congress that Saudi Arabia had requested a possible sale of 72 Boeing F-15SAs. But that step came after a series of talks with Israeli officials.

A cable on 30 July 2009 describes Israel's opposition to the deal as focused on four key items - the transfer of Enhanced Paveway II bombs, joint helmet mounted cueing systems (JHMCS) and active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, as well as basing the aircraft in northern Saudi Arabia.

But it is now clear that US officials did not back down. The DSCA notice announcing the possible Saudi purchased listed both JHMCS and AESA as part of the deal. Despite Israel's objections to Enhanced Paveway II bombs, Saudi Arabia is negotiating a deal that includes Enhanced Paveway III munitions.

The hard-sell technique of US foreign policy is on display in various cables. In a cable dated 14 May 2007, US diplomats noted that Spain has purchased major US weapon systems - fighters, ships, submarines and missiles - sometimes over the objections of European neighbours.

With the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) then in competition, the cable adds, Madrid "would appreciate a gesture from the US so that it can show domestic audiences that Spain gets something out of the relationship".

Spain's EASA Casa lost the US Army's JCA contract to the L-3 Communications/Alenia C-27J, but the cable still urged US diplomats to "push" Spain to join the F-35 programme.

"While there may be a dollar imbalance in the defence relationship," the cable says, "Spain benefits from the relationship in other ways."

Brazil has resisted such a relationship with the US diplomats more than others, and that remained consistent after defence minister Nelson Jobim received a US Air Force briefing on the F-35 programme.

Jobim's delegation was "impressed" by the F-35's capabilities and co-operative production strategy, according to a cable published on 31 March 2008. But Jobim noted concerns about cost, industrial participation and integrating Brazilian technology - possibly the Mectron MAA-1 Piranha missile.

"If there would be a possibility for integration of Brazilian-made hardware or weapons, the F-35 would be a leading candidate for Brazil's next-generation fighter," the cable says.

The USA has never cleared Lockheed to offer the F-35 for the ongoing F-X2 fighter competition, and Brazil rejected the company's bid based on the F-16.

For nearly two years Brazil has been considering three finalists - the Rafale, the Saab Gripen and Boeing's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. But US diplomats, echoing popular wisdom, are not optimistic about the latter's chances.

Another cable, dated 13 November 2009, concludes that Brazil "will most likely favour the French or Swedish offers".

Source: Flight International