F-X2: Brazil Picks Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen-NG over Rafale, Super Hornet
July 11/14: Industrial. There’s no agreement yet for the Gripen lease, but Saab and Embraer have signed the expected Memorandum of Understanding around JAS-39E/F production. Embraer will be the Brazilian industrial lead, performing its own assigned work while managing all local sub-contractors in the program. They’ll also work with Saab on systems development, integration, flight tests, final assembly and deliveries, with full joint responsibility for the 2-seat JAS-39F Gripen NG. Sources: Embraer and Saab, “Embraer to partner with Saab in joint programme management for Brazil´s F-X2 Project”.
As Brazil started boosting its defense budgets in past years, its Navy and Army received funds to replace broken-down equipment, while new fighters will be a critical centerpiece of the Forca Aerea Brasileira’s efforts.
Boeing’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, France’s Dassault’s Rafale, Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen NG were picked as finalists. But after repeated stalling, for years the question was whether Brazil would actually place an order, or fold up the competition like the ill-fated 2011 F-X process. At the end of 2013 Brazil unexpectedly picked the Swedish offer, though offsets, price, and lack of diplomatic baggage, all can explain the decision.
F-X2: The Competition
The 36+ aircraft under consideration for F-X2 were mostly the same set of 4+ generation fighters that were considered for the canceled F-X competition: Boeing’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale, EADS’ Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 60, Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen NG, and Sukhoi’s SU-35.
The FAB was also said to be interested in the Lockheed-Martin F-35, but the finalized nature of the Lighting’s industrial production partnership program was likely to keep the program from delivering the industrial offsets Brazil seeks. Meanwhile, a pair of competitors from earlier rounds faded out. Dassault’s Mirage 2000 production line was closing, and Brazil did not mention the F-16 as a contender – or advance Lockheed Martin’s F-16BR Block 70 offer to the finals.
Reporter Tania Monteiro of the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo writes that technology transfer will be an essential part of any deal, and quotes influential Workers’ Party Deputy (PT is Lula’s party, Deputy = MP or Congressman) Jose Genoino as saying:
“France is always the better partner. Concerning Russia, everyone knows the difficulties and we don’t know what is going to happen in ten years so that we will be able to guarantee our spare parts. The USA, traditionally, does not transfer technology… We want to seek the lowest price with the most technology transfer.”
That offers France an opportunity to get some export momentum and success behind its Rafale, which has lost every competition it has entered thus far (Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, UAE, et. al.). According to reports, the indications are that technology transfer will be more important than cost in terms of the final choice. Defence minister Nelson Jobim:
“Whatever the final contract it must be closely linked to national development, to help advance in the creation of a strong defense industry and therefore the technological edge we are requesting.”
Analysis: F-X2 Competitors
Some quick handicapping follows. The F-X2 finalists were Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen, France’s Rafale, and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Beyond the air force, the Marinha do Brazil eventually intends to buy 24 fighters of its own, to operate from the carrier that replaces NAe Sao Paulo beginning in 2025. They’re watching the competition closely, and would prefer to buy the same aircraft.
Saab JAS-39 Gripen NG (Winner)
Pros: The JAS-39 Gripen Next Generation program offered key industrial opportunities, along with a high-performance fighter whose price and operating costs are both low. Gripen is likely to be Brazil’s cheapest option over its service life; indeed, it could save its full contracted cost of acquisition and maintenance, relative to a Rafale offer that was reportedly twice as expensive.
Saab offers strong industrial partnerships, and has a record of successful technology transfer agreements. For starters, Brazilian industry would be involved in fighter design stage, not just construction. Beyond late-stage development of the JAS-39E/F, Brazil is the likely launch customer for a naval Sea Gripen, which could add considerable local design work under a future contract. A 2nd factor involves integration source codes, allowing Brazil’s growing arms industry to quickly add the weapons they’re developing for use by the FAB – or indeed, by any Gripen customer. On a very concrete level, the JAS-39BR’s avionics suite will be sourced entirely from Elbit’s Brazilian subsidiary AEL, giving it commonalities with the FAB’s other fighters. JAS-39BRs would also give Brazil’s Air Force immediate integration with the cooperative A-Darter air-air missile that Brazil is developing with fellow Gripen customer South Africa, and deploying on its own modernized A-1M AMX fighters.
Grey Areas: The developmental nature of the JAS-39E/F, which won’t be ready before 2018, is both a plus and a minus for Saab. It’s a minus from the standpoint of technical and delivery risk, especially with the FAB expecting delivery by December 2018. On the other hand, as noted above, it’s a strength from an industrial perspective.
The plane’s radar offers the same kind of duality. The JAS-39 NG includes the Raven AESA radar developed with Selex Galileo, whose long history with Brazil’s FAB includes the F-5BR (Grifo-F) and AMX (Scipio) fighter programs. The Raven is an unusual combination of an AESA radar that can be mechanically pivoted, offering more points of failure, but widening the radar’s scanning cone versus other competitors. That’s a strong plus, but the Raven is less mature than the AESA radars equipping the Super Hornet and Rafale.
The last gray area was the twin-engine issue. The F414 engine that Gripen shares with the Super Hornet offers the advantages of well-tested performance and a long-term customer base, but if it fails, you will lose the plane. Brazil combines vast over-water areas and even vaster wilderness areas to patrol, which often translates into a focus on range and 2-engine safety. The other 2 Brazilian finalists were both 2-engine planes, but it’s worth noting that most of Brazil’s other fighters (Tucano ALX, AMX, Mirage 2000) have just one engine.
Weaknesses: Saab’s biggest handicap was the industrial and geopolitical weight of its rivals from France & the USA. As the competition unfolded, the NSA’s all-encompassing spying turned the USA’s strength into a weakness, destroying the Super Hornet’s prospects. That created some blowback for Saab as well, however, since their fighter relies on GE F414 engine. That means the Gripen NG partnership of Sweden, Switzerland, and Brazil will be forced to abide by American ITAR rules for export sales, and must live with the understanding that American sanctions could cripple their fighter fleets. Brazil already lives with this for its front-line F-5 fighters, and they decided they could live with it here, too.
Another handicap involves its lack of a naval variant, or even a flying prototype of same, in a competition where both competitors are naval fighters and the customer operates a carrier. Conversion of land-based aircraft for naval aviation is often unrealistic, but Sweden’s insistence on short take-off and landing performance from surfaces like highways gives Gripen a strong base to work from. Saab began serious work on a “Sea Gripen” in March 2011, and can offer Brazilian industry the unique opportunity to be involved in developing the modified aircraft in time for 2025. It’s still a weakness, but it’s a weakness with a hook that may have been attractive.
Offer: The JAS-39NG reportedly ranked 1st in the FAB’s technical trials, had strong support from Brazilian aerospace firms, and offered a complete package worth about $6 billion (about 10 billion Reals), of which $1.5 billion was for maintenance. Saab even began working with a number of Brazilian firms in advance of any contracts, discussing sub-contracting possibilities, and working to improve their industrial proficiency with key technologies like advanced composite materials. Looks like that’s about to pay off.
Dassault’s Rafale F3R
Pros: The Rafale had a lot of advantages in this competition. It’s a twin-engine fighter with good range and ordnance capacity, advanced weapons and add-ons, and much better aerial performance than the F/A-18 Super Hornet. It can play the carrier-compatible card very well, since the NAe Sao Paulo was once FS Foch, and Brazil’s next carrier may well be a variant of DCNS’ PA2 design.
It also comes from a trusted supplier. France is seen as a good supplier who avoids political interference and makes good on technology transfers, and the FAb’s experience with the Mirage 2000 offers a common technological and training base. Brazil was already embarked upon a broad set of major defense projects with French firms, and President Lula’s administration clearly favored the Rafale as part of that relationship.
Grey Areas: The Rafale confines Brazil to French weapons and sensors, unless Brazil spends its own money to add some locally-developed ordnance. On the other hand, Brazil has bought multiple versions of French Mirage aircraft during the FAB’s history, and seems unfazed by that requirement. Offers to partner in expanding the Rafale’s options might serve to hit 2 targets at once, by allaying concerns and playing the tech transfer card more strongly.
The Rafale’s January 2012 pick as India’s preferred fighter softens the type’s biggest negative, but India hasn’t signed a contract yet. The Rafale was the only plane in this competition without an existing export customer, and it has lost a lot of international competitions.
Finally, Thales new RBE2-AA AESA radar was a bit of a greay area. It has been installed in French Air Force fighters, so it’s mature by the barest of margins. Unlike the Super Hornet’s APG-79, however, it hasn’t been used much in operations and has no combat record.
Weaknesses: The Rafale’s biggest performance weakness is its lack of a Helmet Mounted Display, which keeps it from reaching its full potential in close-range air combat. Its biggest contest weakness was its price.
Offer: Subsequent events would bear out both the Rafale’s strengths, and its weaknesses. Folha de Sao Paolo reports that it was the most expensive of the 3 finalists, with a price tag of about $8.2 billion US dollars (13.3 billion Reals), plus $4 billion in maintenance contracts over the next 30 years. Dassault reportedly offered the best technology transfer package, and Defence Minister Jobim claims a subsequent $2 billion price reduction, but details remain unclear. The plane remained a strong contender, but a deteriorating economy and a binary choice involving Saab’s Gripen created the perfect storm that crashed the Rafale’s chances.
F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
Pros: The carrier-compatible Super Hornet’s biggest advantage was a huge user base and wide array of ordnance, with guaranteed future funding for upgrades that Brazil won’t have to invest in. The Advanced Super Hornet, with conformal tanks, internal IRST, and improved electronics, is an early example of that dynamic at work. The Block II’s combat-proven AN/APG-79 AESA radar offers Brazil an attractive technology, volume production lets Boeing start at a price that’s comparable to the single-engine JAS-39’s, a weaker American dollar makes American exports even more affordable, and the potential to turn these planes into EA-18 electronic jamming fighters is a unique selling point for the type.
On the industrial front, Boeing’s passenger aircraft division gives them an attractive magnet for industrial offsets, and in April and June 2012, Boeing strengthened its position by signing a broad cooperation deal with Embraer. Their offering will use wide-screen displays and some other avionics from Elbit’s Brazilian subsidiary AEL.
Grey Areas: The Super Hornet is an American jet, and the vast majority of its equipment and weapons are also American. The USA’s influence in Latin America can help their lobbying, but their image in Latin America can hurt them at the same time. It was always true that a great deal would depend on what kind of relationship Brazil has with Washington around the time the decision is made, and where Brazil wanted that relationship to go. That dynamic began as a positive inducement to buy from Boeing, but ultimately became a fatal weakness.
Concerns about America’s propensity to use arms export bans as a political lever adds another complication to the Super Hornet’s odds, and take away some of the advantage created by its broad arsenal of American weapons and sensors. Sen. McCain reportedly pledged to get a Congressional commitment that the US Congress would not block the sale or transfer of technologies, but that cannot be binding, which left the issue of future spare parts interference etc. as an open question.
A related grey area for the Super Hornet is technology transfer and customization. Exactly how much technology Boeing and the US government were willing to transfer wasn’t clear, though they promised that their offer was competitive. Source code transfer is a related point, and it affects the ease with which Brazil will be able to add its own equipment if the Super Hornet is chosen. Traditionally, the USA doesn’t offer that.
Weaknesses: The Super Hornet offers poorer aerodynamic performance than other competitors, falling behind in areas like maneuverability, acceleration, sustained Gs, etc.
What really hammered the Super Hornet, however, was the public revelation that the American NSA had been spying on Brazil’s government and Presidential Office. A 2013 negotiation that was supposedly tipping toward the Super Hornet died, and almost took the entire F-X2 competition with it. Instead, the Super Hornet was the only casualty, creating a binary decision between Saab and Dassault.
Offer: After being the long-shot finalist for most of this competition, heavy lobbying by the US government and Boeing appears to have put the Super Hornet back in the running. Folha de Sao Paolo reports that Boeing’s package was worth $7.7 billion dollars (about 12.9 billion reals), of which $1.9 billion was for maintenance. Rousseff reportedly pressed Boeing to improve its industrial participation offer, and Boeing’s subsequent deals with Embraer were significant. The firm just couldn’t fight its competitors and its own government at the same time.
Eurofighter Typhoon (EADS/European): Technology transfer may have been an issue, but price was always the biggest stumbling block. Eurofighters consistently sell for $110-130+ million, which doesn’t square well with $2.2 billion for 36 planes. The most capable air-air choice in the group would provide unquestioned regional air superiority, but ground surveillance and strike performance is still provisional (Tranche 1 v6), or unproven (Tranche 2+). This has been fatal in competitions like Singapore’s, and may have been a handicap here.
On the plus side, EADS Airbus offered a potent option for industrial offsets, and other EADS subsidiaries had footholds of their own. Airbus Military’s A400M medium transport may create additional military interest in a long term industrial partnership, and EADS Eurocopter’s Cougar has just become the medium-lift mainstay of Brazil’s future helicopter fleet.
F-35 Lightning II/ F-16BR (Lockheed Martin) The F-35 would have offered a clear set of performance benefits over competing aircraft. No aircraft in this group could have matched the Lightning’s advanced surveillance capabilities, and surveillance is a big need in Brazil. The F-35B STOVL variant also offered Brazil the ability to operate from small, dispersed runways, and it would have been perfect for aircraft carriers like the Sao Paulo. Unfortunately, technology transfer issues weren’t the F-35’s only problem. Other barriers to an F-35 win included limited opportunities in its industrial structure, questions surrounding air-air performance, the low likelihood of deliveries before 2016 (a concern that was more than vindicated by events), a single engine design – and the potential cancellation of the F-35B variant, which would be most useful to Brazil.
Instead, Lockheed Martin offered Brazil an F-16BR. It was expected to resemble the F-16E/F “Block 70″ variant offered to India, with an AESA radar and built-in IRST/targeting sensors, an uprated engine, etc. Both India and Brazil are fond of Israeli avionics and weapons, and Lockheed Martin has a long history of including those items for Israel and for other customers.
The F-16BR offer shared many of the Super Hornet’s perceived benefits and drawbacks: AESA radar and sensors and weaker American dollar on the plus side, poorer aerodynamic performance and distrust of America on the minus side. The F-16 cannot play the carrier-compatible card like the Super Hornet, and offers only a single-engine design. On the other hand, it did offer wide compatibility with other regional and global air forces.
SU-35 (Sukhoi/ Rosoboronexport) This was the aircraft Russia offered in the last round, and the design has matured into a production aircraft since then. Russian tech transfer is trusted. Lack of political interference is trusted absolutely. The aircraft itself would offer an option that’s better than Venezuela’s SU-30MKs, while still presenting itself to the region as an equivalency move. The price would be good, and Sukhoi had some support in the FAB.
On the other hand, service and parts delivery were almost guaranteed to be bad. That gave the FAB real pause. One way around that might be to offer licensed local production. In order to solve the Russian service problem, it would also have to extend to the aircraft’s NPO Saturn engines and fitted avionics. In the end, it didn’t matter. The SU-35S was not a finalist. Sukhoi reportedly made an unsolicited offer anyway, but it didn’t go anywhere.
Contracts and Key Events
Preliminary agreements with Sweden; Lease discussions for 10 planes.
July 11/14: Industrial. There’s no agreement yet for the Gripen lease, but Saab and Embraer have signed the expected Memorandum of Understanding around JAS-39E/F production. Embraer will be the Brazilian industrial lead, performing its own assigned work while managing all local sub-contractors in the program. They’ll also work with Saab on systems development, integration, flight tests, final assembly and deliveries, with full joint responsibility for the 2-seat JAS-39F Gripen NG. Sources: Embraer and Saab, “Embraer to partner with Saab in joint programme management for Brazil´s F-X2 Project”.
March 3/14: Gripen lease. Brazil will lease 10 JAS-39C/D Gripens as interim fighters from 2016 – 2018, with the 1st batch of 6 arriving in time to fly over the Rio Olympics. The agreement also includes training, and a pair of Brazilian pilots will begins conversion training in May 2015. The JAS-39E/F fighters that follow will have some important differences, but they’ll also have many important similarities, so the lease will serve double duty as an early familiarization period.
The contract is still being negotiated, but the basic premise is that Sweden will loan the fighters, and Brazil will pay operating costs. Defining what that means will still be a bit of work, of course. Does that cover depreciation during flying hours? What maintenance is required? What happens if things break? Et cetera. They’re hoping for a full agreement by May 2014. Spurces: Politica, “Brasil e Suecia discutem emprestimo de cacas Gripen”.
March 3/14: Agreements. Brazil and Saab sign advance agreements on defense cooperation, which lay the foundation for the future Gripen contract. This includes a defense cooperation framework agreement, whose scope is already wider than just fighters, and a corollary agreement that commits to appropriate levels of secrecy and security procedures within that cooperation framework. The new agreements build on documents signed in 1997 and 2000, and both will be forwarded to Brazil’s National Congress for approval.
The industrial goal is to be able to produce 80% of the plane in Brazil, which has future implications given that final Brazilian orders over time are estimated at 60 – 104 fighters. Equally significant, the accompanying security agreements include access to the Gripen’s source code. That will allow Brazil to add its own weapons to the new fighters, increasing the global attractiveness of both Saab’s Gripens and of Brazil’s weapons. A current wave of Latin American upgrades could create timing issues for wider regional sales, but export partnership arrangements are under discussion, and currently revolve around Latin America and developing nations with close Brazilian ties (“das nacoes em desenvolvimento com as quais o Brasil possui estreita relacao bilateral”). Sources: Brazil FAB, “Brasil assina acordos de cooperacao e da prosseguimento a compra dos cacas suecos” | See also Defense News, “Fleet Modernization Drives Requirements Across South America”.
Framework and Confidentiality agreements
February 2014: Interview. Saab CEO is interviewed by Brazil’s Veja, and offers some thoughts regarding F-X2. It provides some behind the scenes clarity, but all words are chosen as carefully as one would expect for a process that Bushke himself admits is highly political. The questions are more interesting in some ways, focusing on Brazil’s educational deficit and implicitly asking about corruption. Bushke flatly says that there were never any improper solicitations, and reminds the interviewer that Brazil’s Embraer was good enough to push Saab out of the civil aircraft market. He does say that Lula’s initial Rafale preference was a shock:
“Saab executives and employees felt that the announcement by Brazil’s former president came like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky. It was totally unexpected, given their strong relationship with the Brazilian military staff responsible for making the decision.”
His answer explains its own implicit question: they weren’t the ones making the decision. Finally, Hakan finds that being from Sweden is useful for at least one purpose: being able to slip inside your opponents’ premises when you’re asked to justify military spending. Sources: Veja Magazine, translated by Saab, “Sweden is a model: Interview with Hakan Bushke, CEO of Saab”.
Feb 4/14: JAS-39F. IHS Janes reports that Brazil wants both single-seat and two-seat variants, unlike Sweden or Switzerland:
“Saab has confirmed to IHS Jane’s that Brazil’s aerospace industry will be given the opportunity to develop a two-seater version of the Gripen NG as part of the USD4.5 million consignment of 36 fighter aircraft…. Out of the 36 fighter jets under the FAB F-X2 programme, eight of the aircraft will be twin-seat Gripen Fs and the rest [DID: 28] will be in the single-seat Gripen Es.”
That would increase Brazil’s workshare, and give them a solid design role, but it also increases costs. Negotiations will be interesting. The other question involves weapons. The JAS-39D eliminates the 27mm cannon found in the JAS-39C, and it remains to be seen whether the JAS-39F will follow the same pattern. Sources: IHS Jane’s 360, “Saab confirms twin-seat Gripen F development for Brazil”.
NSA spying sinks US chances, costs sink Rafale, Gripen wins!; Gripen would use AEL avionics suite; Sukhoi’s unsolicited offer; Boeing deepens Embraer ties.
Dec 18/13: Tack sa mycket, Herr Snowden! Earlier press reports that the competition was stalled for another 2 years are proven wrong by a somewhat unexpected announcement from the Ministerio da Defesa: Brazil has picked Saab’s Gripen-NG as their preferred bidder, and expects to buy 36 planes for $4.5 billion. That’s currently just an estimate, as negotiations need to sort themselves out. A final contract and financial arrangements are expected in December 2014, and deliveries are expected to begin 4 years later. That’s a challenge for Saab, as any schedule slippage in the JAS-39E/F development program would create a late delivery. Late fees can be expected to be a negotiating point, and Brazil’s MdD says that leasing JAS-39C/D Gripens as an interim force may be addressed as a separate contract.
The Gripen NG contract figure tracks exactly with previous reports by Folha de Sao Paolo, which means an additional $1.5 billion contract can be expected for long-term maintenance and support. Saab was the cheapest of the reported offers, beating Boeing ($5.8 billion) and Dassault ($8.2 billion, reportedly reduced) by significant margins. Once Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA spying on Brazil’s government killed Boeing’s chances, there was no middle ground. The Rafale’s reported $10.2 billion purchase + maintenance total made it 70% more expensive than Saab’s Gripen. Brazil’s economic slowdown, and the Rousseff government’s focus on entitlement spending, made that cost chasm a big factor.
It wasn’t the only factor. The Gripen has Ministry statements indicate that industry’s long-standing preference for Saab’s industrial terms played a role, as Gripen-NG offers the prospect of participating in a new fighter’s design. So, too, did the unique prospect of full access to weapon integration source code, which the Ministry cited in its Q&A. That will allow Brazil to leverage its revived arms industry, and easily add weapons like Mectron’s MAR-1 radar-killer missile. Throw in the option to participate in the future design of a carrier-based Sea Gripen variant to replace ancient A-4 Skyhawks on Brazil’s carrier, and Saab’s industrial combination overcame the Gripen’s reliance on an American engine and other equipment.
The Brazilian Air Force has a dedicated website to explain its choice. Dassault issued a terse statement pointing out the presence of US parts on Gripens, and positioning the Rafale in a different league. Which may or may not be true, but it’s indisputably true that global fighter buys have historically been heavily weighted toward a less-expensive league. Gripen is within that low to mid price range, and Rafale isn’t. Sources: Brazil MdD, “FX-2: Amorim anuncia vencedor de programa para compra de novos cacas” | MdD, “Perguntas & Respostas sobre a definição do Programa F-X2″ (Q&A) | Dassault, “FX2 contest – 2013/12/18″ | Defense Aerospace, “Brazil’s Gamble on Gripen Offsets” Folha de Sao Paulo, “Dilma agradece Hollande por apoio contra espionagem dos EUA”.
Brazil picks Gripen
Sept 26/13: Airpower Brazil (Poder Aero) magazine cites Presidential aides to report that President Dilma Rousseff is about to “defer” the F-X2 decision to 2015, after next year’s general election. Negotiations had reportedly almost resulted in a deal for 36 of Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, but NSA spying on the Presidential Office, which Rousseff decried in the UN, is cited as the motivating force behind this reversal. The decision would be a two-stage problem for Boeing. It’s a problem because the bad feelings may not die down, which hurts their political position. It’s also an industrial problem, because all Super Hornet family production is due to end by mid-2016. Australia’s interest in buying 12 EA-18Gs will probably stretch that to late 2016, but a number of key suppliers will end production much earlier without further export wins, and restarts add costs.
Brazil could have simply picked another contender, but Poder Aero’s report says that technology transfer issues around the Scorpene submarine, and problems transferring production to India, have hurt the Rafale’s chances. Frankly, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. The statements regarding the PROSUB program are difficult to verify, but there are counter-examples likes like the EC725 helicopter project that have gone quite well. As for India’s M-MRCA competition, that’s a poor model. Brazil’s aerospace production capabilities are far more advanced than HAL’s, and many of India’s negotiating problems are self-inflicted policy wounds – like wanting to place financial penalties on Dassault for delays, while giving Dassault no management authority with key suppliers. It all depends on what Rousseff’s briefings are telling her.
As for Saab’s JAS-39E/F Gripen, it’s a legitimate candidate, but Brazil reportedly sees its developmental nature as more of a problem than an opportunity.
With all that said, the real question here may no longer revolve around fighters. It’s whether F-X2 is dead. Brazil is hosting the Olympics in 2016, which will create multiple kinds of interference, and excuses for further delay. Slowdowns in China and elsewhere have to send shivers through a commodity economy like Brazil’s, and it has other defense priorities like naval ships that will require budget space. This in a context of massive social protests against corruption, poor public services, and crumbling infrastructure. Given those kinds of headwinds, one might well ask why a political system that has been unable to buy new fighters for over a decade, and has introduced delay after delay for the last 3 years, will suddenly turn that around in 2015. Source: Poder Aero / Valor Econômico, “Governo deve adiar decisao sobre caças da FAB para 2015″.
Aug 12/13: Brazil – NSA fallout. Reuters reports that revelations of NSA spying may have damaged the Boeing Super Hornet’s chances in Brazil. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s October meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff won’t discuss the deal, and the unnamed political source was blunt: “We cannot talk about the fighters now… You cannot give such a contract to a country that you do not trust.”
In July, the O Globo newspaper published documents leaked by Edward Snowden that revealed U.S. surveillance of Internet communications in Brazil and other Latin American countries. Nobody who has been paying attention can possibly be surprised, given concerns regarding transnational drug cartels, Brazil’s close relationship with Iran, and the growth of Islamist activities in the “triple border” junction area of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Brazilian senators may not have been paying attention, or may just have been playing their expected role when they questioned President Rousseff’s visit to Washington in toto.
Brazil could just go ahead and pick another plane, but fighters seem to be dropping down the government’s priority list. Huge protests against corruption and misuse of public money have left the government skittish about big outlays, and another government source tells Reuters that they no longer expect a decision in 2013. With 2014 as an election year, that means 2015 for any fighter decision. The Brazilian government isn’t exactly responding with denials following the Reuters report, and for Boeing, later is better than sooner. Reuters, “Spying scandal sets back U.S. chances for fighter jet sale to Brazil”.
Aug 5/13: Tchau, Mirage. Brazil will retire the FAB’s 12-plane Mirage 2000B/C fleet in December, without a replacement. The people in Brazilia’s glass Supreme Court building will be relieved.
There are conflicting reports as to why they’re being retired. Some cite the Dassault support agreement, which was extended for another 2 years from 2011 – 2013, but ran up against manufacturer recommended service life limits. The cost of the in-depth overhauls would far exceed the $80 million Brazil paid for the used jets, and if Brazil wanted to add modern weapons to keep the planes competitive, the radar and electronics would also need replacement.
Finally, in a tight budget environment, it’s worth noting that other customers have complained about high maintenance costs for this type. Taiwan, for instance, is planning to retire more advanced Mirage 2000-5s by 2020, instead of upgrading or swapping their jets to the 2000-9 configuration. This is so even as they upgrade less advanced F-16A/Bs, and worry about a growing cross-strait imbalance in front-line fighters.
Brazil’s 2005 purchase of the used French fighters didn’t include resale rights, so the fighters will return to France. Due to their age, however, they won’t be resold again. Brazilian reports cite a likely “replacement” of 6-12 F-5Ms at the Anapolis AB near Brazilia, but those are refurbished fighters that were already in FAB stocks. Only F-X2 fighters will act as replacements, if indeed the FAB buys any. Estado de S. Paulo [in Portuguese] | Defense Update.
Mirage 2000s to retire
July 6/13: Delays. Brazil won’t be making their F-X2 decision until the end of the year. They have, of course, asked the contenders to extend their bids yet again. Brazil Defence [unofficial].
June 18/13: Boeing & Embraer. Embraer and Boeing sign an agreement to market Embraer’s KC-390 medium airlifter in limited international venues, building on the June 26/12 MoU. Boeing will be the lead for KC-390 sales, sustainment and training opportunities in the USA, UK and “select Middle East markets.”
Outside the Middle East, that doesn’t actually encompass a lot of meaningful opportunities, but it’s one more factor bolstering Boeing’s F-X-2 bid. Boeing | Embraer.
May 20/13: SU-35, unsolicited. RIA Novosti quotes Rosoboronexport’s SITDEF exhibition lead Sergey Ladigin, who says they’ve offered to deliver Su-35 fighters and Pantsir S1 air defense systems to Brazil outside the framework of a tender, and says the offer is being considered.
Brazil wants the Pantsir short-range air defense gun/missile systems, but the SU-35 failed to make the shortlist in 2009. On the other hand, if you don’t ask, you’ll never get. So Russia’s is throwing in the Su-35 offer, and Ladigin said in Lima that they were “ready to transfer 100% of manufacturing technologies,” as well as some technologies from their T50 (future SU-50?) stealth fighter. Russian Aviation.
May 15/13: Sea Gripen. Saab remains serious about its “Sea Gripen NG,” and has been working on the idea since their May 2011 announcement. Brazil’s Navy is expected to buy its own fighters to equip a new aircraft carrier, which is expected to replace NAe Sao Paulo around 2025. They expect their 24 new fighters to be the same type as the FAB’s F-X-2 winner, which leaves Saab competing against 2 proven naval fighters: Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornets and Dassault’s Rafale-M.
To help build their case, former Brazilian naval aviator Comte. Romulo “Leftover” Sobral is invited to flight test a JAS-39D, in order to verify the design’s basic suitability for naval conversion. Sobral liked the aircraft’s intuitive flight controls, ground handling, stability at low airspeeds, acceleration response, handling at the high angles of attack used in carrier landings, and good visibility. He even liked the flight suit. The plane landed in 800m, and Comte Sobral believes that the plane does have the basic requirements to become an effective naval fighter. The Sea Gripen’s lack of proven status, and absence of even a flying prototype, will still hurt the JAs-39. On the other hand, the time lag from F-X2 to a naval buy gives Brazilian industry a unique opportunity to participate in designing the Sea Gripen. Saab Gripen Blog | Full article at Defesa Aerea & Naval [in Portuguese].
April 15/13: Rafale. Defense World reports from LAAD 2013 that Dassault’s F-X2 offer will be the Rafale F3R, which includes a major software upgrade that allows the aircraft to take fuller advantage of the new Thales RBE2-AA AESA radar, improves their Thales SPECTRA self-defence systems, adds Mode-5/Mode-S capable Identification Friend or Foe, and allows the Rafale to deploy MBDA’s Meteor long range air-to-air missile.
Given Brazil’s insistence on an AESA radar, Dassault could hardly avoid offering the F3R.
April 10/13: Gripen. Saab executive Eddy de la Motta is quoted as saying that Brazilian JAS-39 Gripen NGs would use AEL’s avionics, creating a forked version under the wider development effort. This will help Saab meet industrial offset obligations, and also create commonality for Brazil’s fighter fleet, but integrating all of those components with the plane’s mission computers, OFP core software, weapons, etc. is not a trivial task. Elbit subsidiary AEL’s avionics are used in many Brazilian aircraft, with the exception of the Mirage 2000s that will retire as F-X2 fighters enter the FAB.
A less comprehensive suite of AEL avionics will also be used in Boeing’s F/A-18 International, which offers AEL’s wide-screen display and some other components to all potential customers. Defense News.
April 3/13: Embraer. Embraer’s CEO Luiz Carlos Aguiar talks to Defense News about F-X2 and other subjects. Regarding the fighters:
“I think [the decision is] going to be in the next months, this year, I would say. Our role in that depends… on who is going to win. We have a memorandum of understanding with all three of the contenders. Each of them offers an offset program, but we prefer not declaring publicly our preference…. Whatever they choose, we’re going to be in the process. They need to make this decision because Brazil needs that…. With the F-X, we can even go further in terms of technology, and even some new products could come up with one of these three contenders. That’s what I can tell you, I can’t go further than that.”
Given Embraer’s dominant position in the Brazilian aerospace industry, it would be shocking if any of the contenders had chosen not to sign industrial partnership MoUs with Embraer. In light of the April and August 2012 agreements, the “new products” comment suggests that Boeing may have replaced Saab (q.v. Sept 28-29/09 entries) as Embraer’s preferred choice. That isn’t at all certain, however – as Aguliar surely intended. Defense News.
March 8/13: More delays. Brazil has asked the 3 F-X2 finalists to extend their bids for another 6 months from the March 30/13 deadline, as the Brazilian commodity economy remains mired in a 2-year slump. Boeing, Dassault, and Saab has hoped for a decision in time for Brazil’s April 2013 LAAD defense expo.
The length of the cumulative delays could create changes for the bids, and it effectively squashes any faint hopes that the new jets would be able to fly in time for the 2014 World Cup. Given required production and training times, those hopes started to become awfully faint by around mid-2012. Reuters.
Rafale wins in India; Boeing trying hard.
Dec 11/12: Still no deadline. In a joint press conference with French President Hollande, Brazil’s President Rousseff remains very non-committal regarding F-X2. On the one hand, the timing will depend on Brazil’s economy, which is commodity based and so subject to the effects of global slowdowns. On the other hand, she says that the government expects enough growth in the coming months to resume the selection process. French President [in French] | YouTube press conference video | Les Echos [in French].
Dec 7/12: Super Hornet. The Brazilian news weekly Istoe publishes an article claiming that the FAB’s formal analysis had preferred Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The report was shelved by the government, which favored France’s Rafale. The air force’s preference is reportedly due in part to the fact that the Super Hornet has the widest variety of integrated weapons and equipment, and partly because it’s available immediately and could be delivered very quickly. The FAB is reported to be concerned about both the age of its fleet, and its regional competitiveness.
The Super Hornet’s cost was in the middle, at $5.4 billion rather than the Gripen’s $4.3 billion, or Rafale’s $8.2 billion. So, too, were estimated operating costs, at about $10,000 per flight hour vs. $7,000 for Gripen, or $20,000 for the Rafale.
The government’s thinking is still opaque, though Boeing’s technical cooperation agreements with Embraer (vid. April 3-9/12 and June 26/12 entries) add a bit more weight to the industrial side of the equation. Istoe [in Portuguese, and note that their picture is an F-15] | Defense World.
Aug 9/12: Delayed, again. Brazil may need a 5th consecutive extension. Defence Minister Celso Amorim tells Dow Jones that:
“The project is not being abandoned. There will be a decision in the right time. But, today, I would prefer not to give a date… The economic situation has taken a less favorable turn than expected and it naturally requires caution.”
With China’s economy appearing to slow, and the EU debt crisis as an ongoing drag on their economy, a commodity-based economy like Brazil could find itself in tight straits for a while unless something changes. Fox News.
July 7/12: Extension. The FAB has asked the 3 bidders to renew their fighter offers. It’s the 4th consecutive 6-month extension, while Brazil dithers over its choice and the timing of the buy. France24.
June 26/12: Boeing & Embraer. Boeing and Embraer announce an agreement to share some specific technical knowledge regarding the KC-390, and to evaluate markets where they may join their sales efforts for medium-lift military transports. It’s part of a broader agreement signed in April 2012 (vid.), and its immediate significance is limited.
On the other hand, it has the potential to turn Boeing into a medium transport rival to C-130 maker Lockheed Martin, while extending Embraer’s marketing reach to match Lockheed Martin and Airbus. That’s the sort of thing that could change the KC-390’s global prospects, but it’s still too early to tell. Boeing | Embraer.
June 14/12: Boeing & AEL. Boeing picks Elbit Systems and its AEL Sistemas subsidiary to provide a low-profile head-up display (LPHUD), as part of the Advanced Cockpit System for Boeing fighter jets. This follows the March 5/12 pick to supply the ACS’ Large Area Display (LAD) offered as an option for new F/A-18 Super Hornets and F-15s, including the F-15SE Silent Eagle. Boeing.
May 19/12: 2012 decision? Mercopress reports that Rousseff’s government intends to make its F-X2 decision by the end of 2012. That’s a good way to reduce those tiring lobbying meetings.
April 3-9/12: Boeing & Embraer. Boeing announces its new Sao Paulo facility, Boeing Research & Technology-Brazil. It is the firm’s 6th global advanced research center, after Europe, Australia, India, China and Russia. Areas of research focus for the new center will include sustainable aviation biofuels (Brazil is a leading biofuel producer), advanced air traffic management, advanced metals and bio-materials, and support and services technologies.
That announcement is followed by a broad business agreement with Embraer to cooperate in these areas, as well as in commercial aircraft. The broader announcement by Embraer and Boeing was made on the same day as the signing by the Brazilian and United States Governments of a Memorandum of Understanding on the Aviation Partnership, to expand and deepen cooperation between the 2 countries on civil aviation. Boeing re: facility | Boeing re: cooperation.
March 5/12: Boeing & AEL. Boeing Company and Elbit Systems announce a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cooperate in Brazil. As part of the MoU, Elbit has committed to investing in its AEL Sistemas S.A. subsidiary. Elbit’s 11″ x 19″ Large Area Display has already been picked for next-generation F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15 Eagle variants & upgrades, and the implication is that AEL would help develop and integrate this capability in any Brazilian F/A-18 Super Hornets.
Per Elbit’s investments, AEL will participate in LAD software & hardware development, and establish an Advanced Cockpit Technology Center of Excellence in Brazil. They’re already the Brazilian military’s top avionics supplier, and the firm hopes to expand its cockpit avionics market reach to other fixed-wing and helicopter platforms. Boeing.
Feb 10/12: Reuters reports that Boeing has frozen its 2009 bid price, as the same price for any new tender. In effect, it’s a price reduction of the cost of inflation over that time; the Reuters article offers estimates of a 12% real discount.
Jan 31/12: Rafale in India. Dassault’s Rafale is picked as India’s preferred plane for its 126+ plane M-MRCA fighter contract. A subsequent article in India’s newspaper The Hindu, by Brazilian Prof. Oliver Stuenkel, notes that Brazilian defense minister Amorim’s recent trip to India, immediately after the Rafale had been picked, included an agreement “to share with Brazil some of its experiences of carrying out the open tender evaluation to select the best aircraft… The big question now is how the decision to have Brazil study documents about India’s selection process will affect the tender process in Brazil.”
F-X2 put in limbo, but maneuvering continues; Minister Jobim resigns; Sea Gripen started.
Dec 21/11: Boeing announces Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with MSM Powertrain Ltda. (logistics services, ground support equipment, engineering support) and Pan Metal Industria Metalurgica Ltda. (assembly, subsystem installation, machined parts, processing, heat treatment) to explore work opportunities with Boeing and its industry partners if Boeing wins F-X2. MSM and Pan Metal join more than 25 other companies throughout Brazil that Boeing and its industry partners have already identified.
Sept 30/11: Brazil’s new Defense Minister Celso Amorim says that:
“By the end of 2013, none of the 12 Mirage (aircraft) at the Anapolis air base will be in full flying condition. This [fighter buy] is something that is really urgent, very important… The need to defend the Amazon, the borders – We need to have adequate combat aircraft…”
He reiterated Brazil’s position that the “transfer of technology” is the key sticking point, but earlier comments from Brazil’s government indicate that a larger sticking point may involve the parlous and unstable state of the global economy. If the EU’s inability to enforce its membership terms triggers a global economic crisis, Brazil may find it difficult to field the fighters it needs. AFP | TheLocal.se (note that Saab the carmaker is not Saab aerospace).
Sept 22/11: MercoPress reports that Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota has given French President Sarkozy a possible 2012 date to resume F-X2 – but that comes with a large caveat:
“Depending on the evolution of the global economic situation, if the crisis turns out to be less severe than some imagine, then those plans can resume next year.”
Aug 5/11: Personnel is policy. Brazilian defense minister Nelson Jobim is forced to resign, after public reports of critical comments concerning fellow ministers. He’s the 3rd minister to resign since President Rousseff took office in January 2011, which is creating strains in her governing coalition.
Mr. Jobim will be replaced by the former Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim. Amorim is a high profile figure. Some have called him anti-American, but Wikileaks cables suggest that this may have been a reaction to the activities of other figures in his department. It remains to be seen if, and how, his selection may affect the fighter competition. Mercopress | BBC | Amorim July 2011 interview, incl. video.
July 20/11: Boeing holds an industry forum in Brazil to outline opportunities available as part of the company’s F/A-18 Super Hornet offering.
May 24/11: Sea Gripen starts development. A Saab Group release states that Saab AB will open new UK headquarters and a new Saab Design Centre in London. The engineering center:
“…will capitalise on the UK’s maritime jet engineering expertise and is scheduled to open in the late Summer. Initially staffed by approximately 10 British employees, its first project will be to design the carrier-based version of the Gripen new generation multi-role fighter aircraft based on studies completed by Saab in Sweden.”
Sea Gripen was initially pushed for India (q.v. Dec 28/09 entry), but with Gripen out of M-MRCA unless something changes, the likely target would appear to be Brazil’s suspended F-X2 program.
May 18/11: Saab. Official opening of the Swedish – Brazilian centre of research and innovation (Centro de Inovacao e Pesquisa Sueco-Brasileiro, CISB) in Sao Bernardo de Campo, Brazil, which grew out of the Saab CEO’s September 2010 visit to Brazil. So far, the centre has attracted over 40 partners from academia and industry, who will be active partners in the specific projects. Areas of focus will be in Transport and Logistics, Defence and Security, and Urban development with a focus on energy and the environment.
Saab President & CEO Hakan Buskhe cites a coastal surveillance radar project with Atmos and a datalink development project with ION as examples, and the firm sees many opportunities in Brazil beyond the Gripen project. Civil security will get special attention, as Brazil is hosting both the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games within the next few years. Saab Group.
Feb 22/11: U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, Frank Mora, stands by the technology transfer offer made to Brazil in the event of an F/A-18 Super Hornet buy, calling it “a significant technology transfer” that “would put Brazil at par with our close partners.” The question is whether the Brazilians will consider that enough, if an when they make a decision. UPI.
Feb 20/11: Agence France Presse:
“Major daily O Estado de Sao Paulo cited four unnamed government ministers as saying new President Dilma Rousseff saw no “climate” for the acquisition in 2011, and that such a move in the midst of a $30-billion slash in the year’s budget would be an “inconsistency.”
Jan 17/11: President Rousseff leaves the F-X2 competition in limbo, in light of concerns about the financing of the purchase, how much to borrow for the initial fighter purchase, and inter-agency disagreements. The exact commitment is a decision later in 2011, but no contract until 2012. In practice, however, there is no firm timeline or deadline for a decision, and domestic spending priorities loom large in Rousseff’s agenda. Which makes this a de facto suspension.
If it is a suspension, it leaves the situation of every contender in play. Rousseff has said she wishes to re-open the arguments between the air force (Gripen preferred) and the ministry (Rafale preferred), via an inter-ministerial group, and also wishes to open a dialogue with industry. Both of those moves would have the effect of adding weight to Saab’s bid. She has also reportedly pressed Sen. John McCain [R-AZ] to secure a clear written commitment that the U.S. Congress would not veto the transfer of technology and fighter components, and has reportedly pressed Boeing to improve its industrial participation offer. There have been reports that Rousseff is interested in moving Brazil closer to the USA in the international arena. If they are true, that could make a big difference to the Super Hornet’s chances. Folha de Sao Paolo [in Portuguese] | Defense News | Defense Update | Flight International || Americas Society (AS-COA) | Bloomberg | BusinessWeek re: Rafale program overall | Le Figaro [in French] | Reuters | UPI.
FAB’s (revised?) evaluation in; Controversy in Brazil; Lula won’t sign a contract before he leaves office.
Dec 6/10: End of F-X2? Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva confirms that he won’t sign a fighter deal before he leaves office. An excerpt published by state news agency Agencia Brasil said:
“It’s a very big debt, it’s a long-term debt for Brazil. I could sign off on it and do a deal with France, but I’m not going to do that…”
A number of analysts expect his successor, former Marxist guerilla Dilma Rousseff, to cancel the program altogether. With inflation beginning to rear its head in Brazil, Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega is promising a program of government spending cuts, in order to help deal with it. Unfortunately, the used Mirage 2000s that Brazil bought are unlikely to last much beyond 2014, and French officials remain confident – in public, at least. Agence France Presse | Bloomberg | DefenseWorld | Sweden’s The Local | Reuters || Folha de Sao Paolo [Portuguese, subscription].
Dec 1/10: Saab inaugurates a new Swedish-Brazilian research and innovation center in São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, with a 2-day workshop. The center’s main foci include aerospace, defence and urban innovation/ civil security. Saab will work in close co-operation with local industry and universities including UFABC (Universidade Federal do ABC) and FEI (Centro Universitário da FEI), per a 2009 bilateral Government agreement to extend innovative high technological industrial co-operation between Brazil and Sweden.
Nov 3/10: Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says that:
“We are going to talk over the issue of the fighters – me, [his successor and lieutenant Dilma Rousseff] and [Defense Minister Nelson] Jobim.”
The clear implication is that Rousseff’s win will lead to Brazil confirming Lula’s pre-evaluation choice, and picking the Rafale. Agence France Presse.
April 7/10: AFP reports that Brazilian prosecutors have agreed to open an inquiry into the F-X2 competition, with prosecutor Jose Alfredo de Paulo Silva approving the request from an opponent of Lula’s, who complained that:
“The Brazilian government, because of external political factors, has decided to choose the Rafale, ruling out the Gripen and Super Hornet which were put forward at a lower price. That is against economic principles…”
A spokesman for Brazil’s interior ministry reportedly told AFP the prosecutor would now gather information, and decide if a civil case was possible, and said the inquiry could take up to a year. President Lula’s term ends in January 2011, however, and the election is set for October 2010, so even a 6-month delay would leave the fighter decision for Lula’s successor. See Jan 11/10 entry for the implications of that change.
Other reports quote Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, who says that Brazil’s air force prefers France’s Rafale jet despite the plane’s higher price tag, on industrial grounds. They also indicate that Lula intends to take his proposal to the defense council in the first half of May 2010, with an official decision expected soon after. A competition that is already very political, is becoming even more so. AFP | Avio News | Expatica | Usine Nouvelle [in French].
March 19-25/10: O Estado de Sao Paolo reports that the Brazilian air force certified all 3 fighter jet finalists as meeting Brazil’s technical specifications, and says that relevant reports have been delivered to the defense ministry. Brazil’s defense ministry said it would release final details during the week of April 5/10.
During a subsequent meeting with Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf on March 25th, President Lula is quoted as saying that he’s waiting for the “definitive” technical report on the contenders. Saab CEO Aake Svensson reportedly told the Swedish news agency TT that the Gripen had come out on top in the Brazilian air force’s price and technical evaluation, but previous reports in this competition have been left “unfinalized” and then changed for political reasons. Agence France Presse | UPI | China’s People’s Daily.
March 9/10: Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva claims in his weekly column that his government hasn’t made a decision yet on Brazil’s next fighter aircraft. That’s unlikely to be believed. Associated Press.
Feb 24/10: Agence France Presse says that Brazil’s government has officially denied a Folha de Sao Paulo report re: revised bids from the 3 competitors.
If that unsourced report is accurate, the Rafale’s price dropped from $8.2 billion to $6.2 billion, plus another $4 billion dollars in maintenance over the next 3 decades. The JAS-39NG Gripens were reportedly priced at $4.5 billion dollars plus $1.5 billion dollars in maintenance, while the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets would reportedly cost $5.7 billion plus $1.9 billion in maintenance.
Jan 11/10: An unidentified Brazilian cabinet member tells Reuters that President Lula will choose the French-made Rafale jet as Brazil’s next-generation fighter plane, but wants to negotiate a lower price.
In the background, the political clock is ticking. Lula is constitutionally required to step down after 2 terms in office, and the election to succeed him is set for October 2010. If a deal cannot be done before then, Lula’s successor may have less invested in extending Brazil’s defense partnership with France. Given the apparent preferences within industry and the air force, that could change the likely favorite in an unfinished F-X2 competition.
Jan 8/10: Brazil’s Estadao de Sao Paulo says that the official Air Force report has been modified. It reportedly no longer ranks the 3 finalists, treats the strengths of the Rafale and F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters as established, treats the Gripen NG’s strengths as developmental, and emphasizes the advantages of a twin-engine fighter. With the F/A-18 E/F apparently a political non-starter, it’s expected that these changes will lower the barriers to selecting France’s Rafale. As President Lula intends. Estadao de Sao Paulo | defense-aerospace translation.
Jan 5/10: The Brazilian air force’s Comissao Coordenadora do Programa Aeronaves de Combate (FAB COPAC) has produced its technical evaluation, based on aircraft performance, purchase and lifetime costs, and industrial benefits. The report was ratified by FAB command on December 18th, and media reports from the Folha de Sao Paulo claim that FAB’s executive summary had Saab’s Gripen as the preferred choice, with Boeing’s Super Hornet in 2nd place, and the Rafale last.
The final decision will be President Lula’s, but despite a MdD statement that the report has not been formally delivered, it’s likely to raise the political cost of going ahead with the Rafale deal. The dates involved also shed new light on the government’s mid-December 2009 decision to postpone their final decision, as FAB commander Brigadier Juniti Saito was with Defense Minister Jobim on end-of-year trips to China, Ukraine, and Paris, and COPAC Brigadier Dirceu Tondolo Noro was reportedly called to join them in Paris at the last minute.
Lifetime cost is a very significant issue for the FAB, which understands the inevitable swings that accompany military budgeting in a commodity-driven economy. Saab claims a price of around $70 million (currently around EUR 50 million), which would be 60-70% of the Rafale’s offer price, depending on which sources one believes. Dassault has sort of denied that the Rafale would be 40-50% more expensive (q.v. Nov 12/09 entry), and also contests Saab’s claim that the Gripen NG’s operating and maintenance cost per flight-hour would be just 25% of the twin-engine Rafale’s, but the French firm has not publicly offered any detailed figures. In terms of the politicians’ most important benchmark, the FAB also reportedly gave Gripen NG the edge in industrial benefits, siding with Brazilian industry in believing that a project in development offers greater opportunities to expand Brazilian technologies and skills than a finished product like the Rafale. FAB release [Portuguese] | Folha de Sao Paulo [Portuguese] | Poder Aero [Portuguese or Google's amusing auto-translation] | Reuters.
Lula picks Rafale before tests are in; F-X2 decision postponed; Bids & revised offers submitted; Gripen’s AESA radar partnership; Super Hornet DSCA request; Does Brazilian industry favor the Gripen?
Dec 28/09: Sea Gripen. Reports confirm that co-development of a carrier-capable “Sea Gripen” design was part of Saab’s response to India’s M-MRCA fighter competition RFI, adding that Brazil’s future fighter requirements were also targeted. Key changes are outlined, and Gripen VP of Operational Capabilities Peter Nilsson tells StratPost that the Sea Gripen is intended for both CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery) as well as STOBAR (Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery – “ski jump”) operations:
“There will obviously be differences in the MTOW (Maximum Take-Off Weight). In a CATOBAR concept, the Sea Gripen will have a MTOW of 16,500 kilograms and a maximum landing weight of 11,500 kilograms. In a STOBAR concept it depends on the physics of the carrier. Roughly, the payload of fuel and weapons in STOBAR operations will be one-third less than the payload in CATOBAR operations. There will be no differences in ‘bring-back’ capability,” he says.”
Nov 18/09: A small political kerfuffle erupts as 9 ex-Assistant Secretaries of State for the Western Hemisphere send a letter to Sen. George LeMieux [R-FL] and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, asking LeMieux to join Sen. Jim DeMint [R-SC] in lifting his hold on career diplomat Thomas Shannon’s nomination as Ambassador to Brazil. This is a fairly common practice by both parties, and it takes only 1 senator to place a hold on key nominations. This often leaves key posts unfulfilled for long periods of time.
The letter says that Boeing’s efforts to sell its F/A-18F to Brazil will be placed at risk by the continuing lack of an accredited ambassador. That probably won’t help, but a long history of restrictive American arms export policies, and the fact that the fix appears to be in at top levels to expand defense industrial cooperation with France, are both far more consequential. Bloomberg News.
Nov 12/09: France’s Dassault hits back at its competitors, sort of. Dassault’s Brazilian subsidiary of the French company held a hastily called news conference in Brasilia to defend the aircraft, and sort of deny reports of a 40% higher price than the lowest bid.
Dassault executive Jean-Marc Merialdo would not offer figures, or even deny the reports directly. He did say that claims the Rafale was more expensive by such a margin were “unfounded” and asserted that it was “comparable to other aircraft of the same class.” Defense News.
Oct 4/09: Bids in. Brazil’s FAB confirms that revised bids are in from all 3 short-listed contenders, and Saab’s offer clearly has significant support from the Swedish government.
Gripen International’s revised bid offers a wide range of elements, including: Full involvement in the Gripen NG development program; Complete technology transfer and national autonomy through joint development; Independence in choice of weapons and systems integration; Production in Brazil of up to 80% Gripen NG airframes, via a full Gripen NG assembly line; and Full maintenance capability in Brazil for the Gripen NG’s F414 engine. That last offer would largely remove the threat of future American interference, and it would be interesting to see how Gripen International proposes to achieve it. Gripen International touts “significantly lower acquisition, support and operating costs” for its plane, and all this would be backed by a firm proposal for full long-term financing from the government’s Swedish Export Credit Corporation.
The additional offers are equally significant. Brazil will have the sales lead for Gripen NG in Latin America, with joint opportunities elsewhere. Saab would join the KC-390 program as a development and marketing partner, and Sweden will evaluate the KC-390 for its long term tactical air transport needs, as a future replacement for its recently-upgraded but aging C-130 Hercules aircraft. Saab also proposes to replace Sweden’s aged fleet of about 42 SK60/ Saab 105 jet trainers with Embraer’s Super Tucano, but it received a SKr 130 million ($18.8 million) deal in September 2009 to upgrade the planes’ cockpit systems, and current Swedish plans would see the SK60s continue in service until mid-2017. FAB release [in Portuguese] | Gripen International release.
Sept 29/09: Who, us? Embraer release [PDF format]:
“Regarding the article published in the Valor Econômico newspaper, dated September 28, 2009, Embraer clarifies that it is not directly participating in the selection process of the new F-X2 fighter for the Brazilian Air Force and, contrary to what was stated, it has no preference among the proposals presented. Embraer reaffirms its unconditional support of this process, always in close alignment with Brazil’s Aeronautics Command and the Ministry of Defense.”
Sept 28/09: Embraer drops a political bombshell, when Embraer’s Deputy Chief Executive for the defense market, Orlando Jose Ferreira Neto, tells Valor Economico that the firm was asked to advise the Air Force re: industrial proposals, and concluded that participating in the JAS-39NG Gripen’s development offers Brazil’s aerospace industry the best long-term benefits. Embraer reportedly saw the JAS-39NG as offering the opportunity to participate in the design process, rather than just producing parts. The opinion is a shock, as France’s interest in buying Embraer’s KC-390 transports was expected to leave Brazil’s top aerospace firm solidly on-side for the Rafale bid. T-1 Holdings executives (see Sept 17/09 entry) were also quoted in the article.
In response, Defence Minister Jobim fires back to say that the government will make these decisions, not Embraer. Dow Jones | Defense Aerospace translations (note: links will not last) | Valor Online, via Noticias Militares [in Portuguese] | Defesa Brazil [in Portuguese] | O Globo [in Portuguese].
Sept 17/09: Saab announces that over 20 engineers from the Brazilian firms Akaer, Friuli, Imbra Aerospace, Minoica, and Winnstal are already working on the Gripen NG project in Linkoping, Sweden, with the Swedish government’s authorization. The 5 firms will participate as the T1 holding, and would be responsible for projecting and manufacturing the JAS-39BR’s central and rear fuselages and wings. If all goes well, Akaer predicts that as of 2010 a team of at least 150 engineers and technicians from the T1 holding will start working in Brazil, alongside 20 Swedish specialists.
Beyond Gripen production, the holding’s goal is to form a new Brazilian aeronautical center in Brazil, and some technology transfer in the area of composite materials is reportedly underway already. Shaping the wing of a supersonic craft requires higher quality levels than civil applications, as well as manufacturing challenges owing to thicker and more resistant parts. Management and integration training within a holding structure of this type will also be required.
Sept 15/09: Boeing kicks off a 2-day conference in Sao Paulo with 140 potential partner and supplier companies, as it reaffirms its Super Hornet offer in advance of the Sept 21/09 submission date. Bob Gower, vice president of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Program stated openly that the Super Hornet’s price “is considerably lower than that of the Rafale.” Boeing’s release also addresses reports of incomplete technology transfer for its product:
“Boeing delivered an offer to the Brazilian Air Force in August that included full technology transfer… [defined as] the option of Super Hornet co-production in Brazil and the sharing of technology that would allow Brazil to integrate its own weapons.”
Sept 14/09: MercoPress reports remarks by CGT union leader Dominique Richard at Dassault, who is concerned about the extent of technology transfer that may be offered. Dassault, meanwhile, denies that there will be any effect on French jobs. Richard:
“There’s something which troubles us in this contract and is the fact that Brazil wants to have its own military air industry and that the agreement with Dassault, the French government and the Brazilian government includes the transfer of technology.”
See also AnsaLatina [in Spanish].
Sept 13/09: Flight International’s “Closer political ties raise prospects for renewed alliance between Dassault and Embraer” covers the market possibilities.
The 2 firms have very little overlap. Dassault is strong in the high-end executive jet market, but Embraer brackets those offerings with bigger regional jets and lower-end Phenom light and very light jets. Some form of consolidation could make sense. Embraer is also looking to field competition with the Boeing 737 and Airbus A319/320 series, and could benefit from Dassault’s engineering expertise. On the flip side, the KC-390 tactical transport would add a new product category for Dassault, improving and eventually replacing the Rafale could take a wider set of resources than France and Dassault are willing to supply, and the closure of the Mirage 2000 line leaves a hole in Dassault’s offerings at the light end of the spectrum.
Sept 11/09: Brazil’s MdD announces a Sept 21/09 deadline for Dassault to submit its Rafale business proposal, adding that the other 2 firms can also choose to submit. Defense Minister Nelson Jobim is quoted as saying [translated]:
“Now we have to evaluate the proposals. The commitments that President Sarkozy made will have to be confirmed by Dassault’s offer… there has been a political decision of the President to expand the strategic alliance with France… for this policy decision to come into effect, it depends on Dassault and also the others, because there needs to be a comparative evaluation.”
The Brazilian air force (FAB) still expects to complete the technical review process by the end of October 2009, for delivery to the Minister of Defense and the President. The final decision will be the President’s – and Lula has already expressed his clear preference, unless Dassault does something to change it via adverse pricing and financing terms or issues with technology transfer. “>MdD release & defence aerospace translation | Folha de Sao Paolo re: tech transfer [in Portguese].
Sept 9/09: …or not. Aftermath, and clarifications. Brazil’s President and MDD reaffirm their intended defense partnership with France, while the US Embassy correctly notes – and Brazil’s MdD confirms – that no formal decision has been taken yet. This is technically true, but there is no question that the Rafale has been given preferred bidder status. Negotiations would have to fail badly before any other contender had a chance. The Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paolo:
“The expectation is that the deal will be concluded with France, but only if it offers a lower price for the Rafale, the most expensive of the competitors, and a more favorable interest rate. According to [reporting by] Folha de Sao Paulo, Lula rushed into dinner with Sarkozy on Sunday night and skipped several steps of the selection process, which angered the Air Force Command and left Jobim in the crossfire.”
There are also widespread reports that Brazil’s unwillingness to be subject to the USA’s potential ITAR restrictions and technology transfer limits was a key factor in their rejection of the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, and of Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen NG (whose F414 engine is American). Brazilian President’s Office | MDD clarification | US Embassy in Brazil | Folha de Sao Paolo & translation via defense aerospace | Gripen International confirms its continued participation.
Sept 7/09: Winner!? Brazil’s Ministerio Da Defesa announces that Dassault Aviation is now the F-X2 competition’s preferred bidder, and the country will order 36 Rafales subject to further negotiations. The announcement also says that Brazil has secured French cooperation to develop Embraer’s KC-390 medium transport, and possibly buy 10-12 of the aircraft when they’re introduced.
This sale would be France’s 1st export order for its Rafale fighter, after numerous attempts spanning more than a decade. French technology transfer across a broad range of projects was reportedly the critical factor in the deal, and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim reportedly said that the decision to begin talks with Dassault “was not adopted in relation to the other two” competing companies. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, meanwhile, described the move as “definitively consolidating a strategic partnership we started in 2005.” Brazil will now produce helicopters (EC725), submarines (nuclear-powered and diesel-electric), transport aircraft (KC-390) and possibly fighters (Rafale) in cooperation with France, under a broad strategic partnership in the defense arena. MDD announcement [Portuguese] | Agence France Presse | France24 | CS Monitor | L.A. Times | Reuters.
Sept 5/09: Brazil’s Defesa@NET explains the expected way forward:
“A Brazilian military expert who runs a specialist magazine titled Defesanet, Nelson During, told AFP that Brazil’s decision should be known in October. “The air force should send its evaluation of the three aircraft to the government on October 23 — Day of the Aviator — indicating its choice. Then, the National Defense Council should ratify that choice pretty quickly,” he said.”
Sept 3/09: Brazil’s Defesa@NET refers to an exclusive interview that Agence France Presse conducted with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and offers key quotes:
“A country of Brazil’s importance cannot buy a product from another country without technology transfer… France has shown itself to be the most flexible country in terms of transferring technology, and evidently, this is an exceptional comparative advantage… France is the only important country ready to discuss with us technology transfers in all these domains [helicopters, submarines, and fighter jets]… Brazil has drawn up a strategic defense plan. We are convinced … that because of the Amazon, our deep-water offshore oil deposits, Brazil should have a defense industry in keeping with its size and import.”
Aug 21/09: The Brisbane Times covers stepped up lobbying in Brazil, as the decision date is reportedly pushed from September to October 2009.
Aug 6/09: F/A-18 filing. Per US laws, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announces [PDF] Brazil’s formal request to buy up to 36 F/A-18E/F Super hornets and related equipment. The DSCA release is careful to stress that Brazil has yet to select its future fighter; the notice simply gives Brazil full assurance that all aspects of the sale can proceed smoothly if the Super Hornet is selected. This may be why no estimated cost has been given – a departure from DSCA norms.
Industrial offset agreements associated with this proposed sale are expected, but would be defined during negotiations between the purchaser and contractor. The equipment would include:
- 28 F/A-18E Super Hornet Aircraft,
- 8 F/A-18F Super Hornet Aircraft
- 76 F414-GE-400 installed engines: 72 installed, 4 spares
- 36 AN/APG-79 AESA Radar Systems
- 36 M61A2 installed 20mm Gun Systems
- 44 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS)
- 144 LAU-127 Launchers
- 28 AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM)
- 28 AIM-9M Sidewinder short range air-air missiles. AIM-9M is the most common current version in US service, but not the most advanced; that distinction belongs to the AIM-9X. Brazil is collaborating with South Africa on the A-Darter SRAAM, which is intended to be an AIM-9X peer.
- 60 GBU-31/32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM)
- 36 AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) precision glide bombs
- 10 AGM-88B HARM anti-radar missiles. Brazil produces its own missile, but the HARM is already integrated with the Super hornet and Brazil’s weapon is not.
- 36 AN/ASQ-228v2 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) surveillance and targeting pods.
- 36 AN/ALR-67v3 Radar Warning Receivers
- 36 of BAE’s AN/ALQ-214 Radio Frequency Countermeasures systems
- 40 of BAE’s AN/ALE-47 Electronic Warfare Countermeasures systems
- 112 AN/ALE-50 Towed Decoys
- Plus the Joint Mission Planning System, support equipment, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, ferry and tanker support, flight test, software support, publications and technical documents, and other support.
The principal contractors were listed as:
- The Boeing Company St. Louis, MO (Super Hornets, JDAM)
- General Electric Aircraft Engines in Lynn, MA (F414-400)
- Northrup Grumman Corporation El Segundo, CA (Super Hornets)
- Raytheon Corporation El Segundo, CA (ATFLIR pods, APG-79 radar, AGM-88, JSOW, AIM-120, AIM-9, ALE-50 towed decoys)
- Lockheed Martin in Bethesda, MD
Implementation of this sale will require approximately 8 contractor representatives to provide technical and logistics support in Brazil for 2 years. U.S. Government and contractor representatives will also participate in program management and technical reviews for 1-week intervals twice semi-annually.
July 13/09: MercoPress reports that deals are in the works between F-X2 contenders and Brazilian companies.
According to MercoPress, Boeing IDS President & CEO Jim Albaugh said agreements have been signed with 27 Brazilian companies that are capable of producing parts for the F/A-18, including Embraer. The move could reportedly translate into 5,000 jobs throughout the entire supply chain.
Saab Gripen’s marketing chief Bob Kemp was reportedly quoted as saying that Gripen International was prepared to shift up to 50% of future production to Brazil.
The report adds that Brazilian President Lula da Silva has invited French President Sarkozy to its independence day celebrations on September 7th, as a guest of honor. Da Silva reportedly said that he hopes to sign new defence accords at that time. This is taken by some as an indication that Dassault’s Rafale is currently the favored candidate. France is Brazil’s most significant defense supplier on a broad range of fronts, however, and so the promise of new accords is not definitive.
May 4/09: Revised offers. Brazil’s FAB(Forca Aerea Brazileira) issues a release, announcing that revised offers from the participating companies were submitted to F-X2 Project Management (GPF-X2). The companies are listed, and it’s the same list as the finalists and original submissions listed on Feb 2/09: Boeing, Dassault, and Saab. No Russian firms listed.
GPF-X2 has held clarification meetings held since March 2/09. On March 30/09, it began verification visits to see the firms’ facilities, maintenance, R&D labs, and active squadrons; and will make evaluation flights. FAB release [in Portuguese]
April 6/09: Russia’s RIA Novosti quotes Alexander Fomin, deputy director of Russia’s Federal Service on Military-Technical Cooperation:
“We are actively participating in the Brazilian tender, which has been reopened. It involves over 100 fighter planes. Russia has made a bid in the tender with its Su-35 multirole fighter. The tender has stiff requirements, involving not only the sale, but also the transfer of technology. It is a key condition of the deal and Russia is ready to satisfy it… We are discussing with the well-known Brazilian company Embraer the transfer of technology and the construction of facilities for the future licensed production of the aircraft…”
Fomin reportedly added that such a facility could also produce the 5th generation PAK-FA fighter being developed in conjunction with India. Experiences with the American F-22 and F-35 suggest that this would depend on the sophistication of the facilities. Stealth fighters require new equipment and techniques that go beyond normal aircraft construction standards, and a facility set up to produce even 4+ generation fighters may not be adequate.
March 30/09: The Brazilian Air force announces [in Portuguese] that it is beginning visits and technical evaluation of the 3 finalists. This evaluation will include test flights, and evaluation of the bids’ technical, industrial and maintenance offerings.
March 24/09: Gripen AESA. Dassault’s acquisition of a large stake in Thales led to Thales’ refusal to sell Saab the RBE2-AA AESA radar beyond the Gripen Demo stage. In response, Saab and SELEX Galileo sign an agreement to develop an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar for the JAS-39NG. The arrangement is initially aimed at Brazil’s fighter competition, where it leverages Selex Galileo’s strong pedigree equipping Brazil’s F-5BR fighters (Grifo-F radar) and AMX light attack jets (Scipio radar). Once integrated and proven, however, the AESA upgrade would be available to any Gripen customer.
Per Aviation Week’s March 10/09 report from Aero India, the radar will use a Vixen 500 AESA front end, with “back end” modules from the existing PS-05/A. Using those back end modules simplifies integration, and also avoids the control issues inherent in American alternatives. As it happens, the 2 firms have a long history of radar partnerships. Ericsson (now Saab’s) partner on the original PS-05/A was Ferranti, which became GEC-Marconi, then BAE Systems, and now Selex Galileo. Selex was also Saab’s partner in the recent M-AESA R&D project.
The Vixen 500 AESA radar is currently used in the USA by border surveillance aircraft, but it has yet to see service on a fighter. Korea’s F/A-50 was recently barred from using the Vixen 500E, under an agreement with co-developer Lockheed Martin that did not allow the F/A-50’s capabilities to surpass the ROKAF’s F-16s. Saab | Gripen International.
Feb 2/09: Bids are in. Boeing confirms that it has submitted a bid involving 36 F/A-18 Super Hornet Block IIs, with the APG-79 AESA radar.
Gripen International confirms a bid involving 36 JAS-39NG aircraft, with longer range, AESA radars, and other enhancements. Their release adds that Brazil will have “direct involvement in the development, production and maintenance of the platform but it will also generate transfer of key technology including access to Gripen source codes.”
2007 – 2008
F-X2 program revived; RFP out; 3 finalists picked.
November 2008: Russia and Brazil sign a series of agreements on military technology cooperation. As is customary, the agreements set out protocols for the protection of intellectual property rights and technology secrets, which make joint ventures and local production easier to manage. Source.
Oct 30/08: RFP. Brazil’s FAB formally issues the RFP to the short-listed competitors. The 3 firms will have until Feb 2/09 to present their proposals, which must include operational, logistic, industrial, commercial, technical, commercial compensation (offset) and technology transfer details. FAB release [Portuguese].
Oct 1/08: Finalists picked. Brazil has decided on its 3 finalists: Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, and Saab/BAE’s JAS-39 Gripen.
Aug 27/08: Defesanet reports that Lockheed Martin will be offering an F-16BR for Brazil’s F-X2, rather than the F-35. The report adds that barriers to technology transfer of some F-35 systems played a role in this decision. Defesanet [Portuguese] | Forecast International.
July 30/08: Boeing delivers a detailed proposal July 30 offering its advanced F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornet to the Brazilian Air Force. The aircraft would be similar to the F/A-18Fs ordered by the Royal Australian Air Force, and would include Raytheon’s APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar. Boeing release.
June 12/08: Boeing (and presumably other manufacturers) receive the Brazilian RFP. The stated initial requirement is for 36 aircraft, with the potential for up to 120 aircraft. Boeing release | FAB statment (Brazilian air force).
January 2008: Brazil’s President Lula formally authorizes Brazilian Air Force Commander Juniti Saito to restart the F-X program.
November 2007: Brazil’s decision to hold an “F-X2″ competition is announced by the Brazilian press.
(1) Russian firms tend to partner due to local political necessity, or to gain technologies/ quality level they do not have, rather than as a strategic option for penetrating new markets. In Brazil’s case, one logical option would have been a partnership with India to offer the thrust-vectoring, canard-winged SU-30MKI, which is arguably superior to the SU-35. The aircraft are partly produced in India, and already have obvious slots for tech transfer because that was built into the Indian program.
A 3-way deal leveraging India’s HAL, and setting up an NPO Saturn engine plant in Brazil, would have offered several benefits. It would offer India and other SU-30 customers a welcome 2nd engine source, offer Brazilian aerospace a critical additional puzzle piece in engine construction, offer the FAB removal the biggest historical problem with Russian planes, and offer Russia a substantially strengthened lobbying effort.
On the avionics and electronics front, Elbit Systems avionics could be sourced from the Brazilian subsidiary AEL to offer fleet commonality, and some can be found in the SU-30MKI already. Indian electronics used in the SU-30MKI would offer additional options for international cooperation and license production, alongside Israeli options that already equip Brazilian aircraft.
The question is whether the Russians were ever good enough at partnering to pull something like that off, or were even willing to try.
Appendix A: F-X2 and Brazil’s FAB
Brazil can depend on its sheer size, and the barrier created by its geography, to shield its population centers from many threats. The same isn’t necessarily true of its military installations or economic interests, which require either air superiority, or air denial from mobile and effective defensive missiles. Airpower’s flexibility also makes it a uniquely useful as a deterrent and response to threats and coercion, and is uniquely suited to the job of patrolling vast areas.
Much of that patrol work falls to the mid-tier of Brazil’s its air force, and its specialty fleets. Those are in good shape, which makes sense in a region where most threats are internal. Brazil’s 43 or so upgraded Brazilian-Italian AMX subsonic light attack jets, and 99 indigenous Super Tucano COIN/surveillance turboprops, are quality offerings within their respective niches. Their performance is very well suited to basic policing duties, especially when backed by a small but advanced set of airborne, ground looking and maritime R-99/ P-99 radar derivatives of Embraer’s ERJ-145 business jets. The ERJ derivatives will be augmented by 12 refurbished P-3 Orions, bought to patrol Brazil’s huge coastlines and maritime economic zone.
Unfortunately, the high end of the FAB’s fighter fleet is inferior even when judged by regional standards.
After its existing Mirage IIIs simply wore out and had to be retired at the end of 2005, FAB Command worked out a plan to find an emergency interim replacement. The final choice was 12 second-hand French Mirage 2000Cs. The airframes selected by Brazil were produced for France between 1984 -1987, and began arriving in Brazil in 2006.
A parallel F-5 upgrade program is underway to keep those 1960s-era lightweight fighters in service for another 15 years, while modernizing them to a level of effectiveness that’s slightly below the Mirages.
Inducting 20 year old aircraft was not a long-term solution. Especially for a country that reportedly had about 37% of its 719-plane air force grounded, due to a combination of age and the toll of Brazil’s environments. Upgrading the F-5s is useful, but can’t even be described as a short-term solution to the gap at the high end of their force. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s large military buys, and especially its FAV’s recent purchase of long-range, 4+ generation SU-30MK2 fighters, appear to have had the effect of triggering counter moves around Latin America. So, too, have Venezuela’s actions around Latin America, as the line between external and internal threats blurs. In Brazil’s case, interference within key Brazilian natural gas provider Bolivia was not seen as a friendly act.
Publicly, Brazil has been careful to stress that this is not about an arms race. Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said in a 2007 public speech that:
“Brazil has well established, peaceful relations with all South American nations … one of our political priorities is economic and structural integration of the region … (and in 2008) we’ll also be strengthening our military links… [Brazil cannot] neglect its defense. Therefore, we will increase our budget outlays and investment in the army, navy and air force by more than 50 percent… [Brazil] is elaborating a national strategy defense plan that will determine each military branch’s mission and the equipment it needs for its activities”.
The reassurances are meant to be sincere. So, too, are the plans referred to in the second half of the quote. Brazil has shaken off its sloth, and taken wide-ranging steps to revive its military. Including its fighters.
In January 2008, Brazil’s President Lula authorized Brazilian Air Force Commander Juniti Saito to restart the long-delayed F-X fighter replacement program. “F-X2″ aimed to acquire 36 next generation fighters for the Brazilian Air Force. A previous 2001 F-X competition was put on hold in 2003, and then canceled in February 2004 due to budget difficulties and political issues. The initial budget for the current iteration is said to be $2.2 billion, but is likely to end up being 2x-3x that figure. The RFP leaves the door open for future buys, which could raise that total to 120 aircraft.
Appendix B: F-X2 – The Industrial Angle
President Lula da Silva’s administration had larger plans than just equipment recapitalization when restarted F-X2, saying that “we must overcome the lack of strategic planning and the technological dismantling of the last two decades.” The new National Defence Strategy group is designed to plan and execute the recovery of the “capability of our armed forces and the technological edge we once had in certain fields.”
Brazil maintained an impressive niche capability during the 1970s and 1980s in areas like tank and armored vehicle design, rockets, missiles, and of course aircraft. Unfortunately, in a world divided by cold war allegiances, there was often little room for a non-aligned 3rd party exporter. While some projects like the Tucano succeeded, and others like the AMX enjoyed qualified success, many promising projects saw limited exports or failed.
The world is no longer divided into cold war camps, which may offer the Brazilian defense industry a second chance if it partners well and executes smartly. According to the main guidelines of the da Silva’s long term strategy, Brazilian defense industry should look to become a player again in the export of missiles, aircraft and other equipment. UAVs, with their long endurance surveillance capabilities and natural connection to Brazil’s aviation industry, are likely to also become a priority. The overall thrust of Brazil’s policies is certainly clear: “We must convince ourselves that we can become a world power this century,” said President Lula da Silva.
On the one hand, these statements remind one of the old joke that goes: “Brazil is the nation of the future – and always will be.”
On the other hand, anteing up with a major hike to the defense budget certainly displays seriousness, and Brazil has already set up a key partnership to develop the 5th generation A-Darter short range air-air missile with South Africa. A similar deal with Israel for its Derby/Alto radar guided missile is also expected at some point, and RFPs went out for a handful of medium transport helicopters (AW EH101, Russian Mi-171V, EADS EC725 won) and some attack helicopters (AW-TAI A129, EADS Tiger, Russian Mi-35M won).
The giant may be stirring again. A handful of fighters and helicopters, plus ships to patrol its coasts, won’t exactly make anyone a world power. Budgetary resources will also have to address an urgent need for transport aircraft, which is pushing resources toward Embraer’s KC-390. Still, these buys may go a long way toward ensuring the nation’s ability to patrol and enforce its long borders. The Gripen deal will complete that program in the air.
The defense spending surge is also helping Brazil to re-establish its faded indigenous defense industry on the world stage. In the air, Embraer’s KC-390 medium transport has become a serious contender for global orders, even as the EC725 partnership with Eurocopter is giving Brazil much-improved helicopter manufacturing and servicing. The A-Darter missile program is ongoing with South Africa, and on the ground, a major partnership with Iveco will produce hundreds of VBTP 6×6 wheeled armored personnel carriers. Cooperation with France will produce 5 submarines, including 1 nuclear attack sub; and a major naval tender to buy frigates, patrol vessels, and supply ships has attracted bids from Britain, Korea, France, and elsewhere. A clever buy of 3 Scarborough Class 90m patrol boats from BAE, with options to build 5 more in Brazil, has begun that process.
Background: FAB & Programs
- Scramble – Brazilian Air Arms. there are several. The Forca Aerea Brasileira (Air Force), Comando da Forca Aeronaval (Naval air arm, which includes the carrier Sao Paolo – once France’s Foch – and its A-4M Skyhawks), and the Aviacao do Exercito (Army aviation).
- MILAVIA – Brazilian Air Force FAB – Forca Aerea Brasileira.
- GlobalSecurity – F-X BR.
- DID FOCUS article – The JAS-39 Gripen: Sweden’s 4th Generation Wild Card. Winner.
- Saab – Gripen for Brazil.
- MILAVIA – Military Aviation Specials – The Mirage 2000 in Brazil. Now retired.
- DID – South Africa, Brazil to Develop A-Darter SRAAM. Already integrated on the SAAF’s JAS-39C/D Gripens.
Background: Fighter Contenders
- Air Force Technology – F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Maritime Strike Attack Aircraft, USA.
- Flight International, via WayBack (March 13/07) – Ultra Hornet. Describes the updates to create the Hornet Block 30/Block II; the performance enhancements are all electronic rather than aerodynamic. Interestingly, future enhancements may include a limited electronic attack function for all APG-79 AESA radars.
- DID FOCUS article – EA-18G Program: The USA’s Electronic Growler.
- DID – France’s Rafale Fighters: Au Courant In Time?.
- Air Force Technology – Rafale Multi-Role Combat Fighter, France.
- Eurofighter GmbH – Eurofighter Typhoon official site.
- DID – Eurofighter’s Future: Tranche 3, and Beyond.
- DID – Eurofighter’s Future: Tranche 3, and Beyond.
- DID Spotlight article – The UAE’s F-16 Block 60 Desert Falcon Fleet. This is currently the most advanced F-16 variant in the world.
- DID – Russia’s SU-35: Mystery Fighter No More.
- DID FOCUS article – Lightning Rod: F-35 Fighter Family Capabilities and Controversies.
News & Views
- DID Spotlight – Venezuela Buying SU-30s, Helicopters, et. al. From Russia. Covers those deals and updates.
- Veja Magazine, translated by Saab (February 2014) – Sweden is a model: Interview with Hakan Bushke, CEO of Saab. Talks about Brazil’s F-X2 competition, which Saab won.
- Miami Herald (Sept 25/13) – Why we spy on Brazil. And why the USA believes that they need to continue, even if it costs Boeing a sale. Which it did.
- DefesaNet (Dec 10/12) – GRIPEN – A ticket to the future. Test pilot gets to fly it.
- Foreign Policy Centre, via WayBack (Sept 27/09) – The choice of French fighter aircraft in Brazil and its impact on Latin America. The FPC is based in Britain.
- Flight International, via WayBack (Sept 13/09) – Closer political ties raise prospects for renewed alliance between Dassault and Embraer.
- Council on Hemispheric Affairs, via WayBack (Sept 9/09) – The Brazilian Military Is Back, As It Fleshes Out Its Weaponry And Strategies. COHA’s point of view is left-wing.
- Info LatAm, via WayBack (Sept 6/09) – Carrera Armamentista en América Latina: armas, armas, armas [in Spanish].
- Council on Hemispheric Affairs, via WayBack (Sept 1/09) – Embraer: Brazilian Military Industry becoming a Global Arms Merchant? COHA’s point of view is left-wing.
- Defense News (April 16/09) – IAI Casts Lot for Future Growth with Brazil [dead link]. “Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI) looked around the world for its future growth and signed up for Brazil and India, said Yair Shamir, chairman of the diversified aerospace and defense group…”
- Forecast International, via WayBack (Aug 26/08) – Brazil Restarts Big-Ticket Procurement with an Eye to the Future. Sees the 2 biggest ticket items as the F-X2 program, and Brazil’s renewed push to design a nuclear fast attack submarine, in conjunction with the French.
- DID (July 2/08) – Brazil Signs $1B+ Production Deal for Cougar Helicopters. The medium helicopter competition is decided.
- Defesanet, via WayBack (Nov 7/07) – Lula reaparelha ForÃ§as Armadas de olho na transferÃªncia de tecnologia [in Portugese]. Reprinted from O Estado de Sao Paolo.
- Mercopress Uruguay, via WayBack (Nov 6/07) – Brazil to boost defense industry and acquire 36 fighter jets.
- Bloomberg (Nov 4/07) – Brazil Plans to Buy $2.2 Billion of Fighter Planes, Estado Says.
- Australia’s News Ltd., via WayBack (Oct 29/07) – Brazil boosts military spending more than 50 percent.
- Council on Hemispheric Affairs, via WayBack (March 20/07) – The Russian Arms Merchant raps on Latin America’s Door.
- DID (Nov 22/05) – F.I. Looks At Latin American Arms Market, Sees Venezuelan Buildup. Forecast International valued Venezuela’s military modernization program at up to $30.7 billion through 2012, which would make the country the leading arms buyer in the region through the rest of the decade.
- Jane’s, via WayBack (April 15/05) – Brazil: On a shoestring.
- Frost & Sullivan, via WayBack (March 29/07) – Future Fighter Aircraft Requirements in Emerging Economies.
- Defesanet, via WayBack (Feb 24/05) – Cancelado o Programa F-X BR.
- Defesanet, via WayBack – (Jan 7/05) – F-X is Dead – Long Live F-X.