Saab’s Gripen looks to land major Brazilian air force order

Swedish aircraft maker Saab AB is weeks away from learning whether its Gripen NG fighter jet will be chosen by Brazil over models from France and the United States in a much-anticipated deal worth billions.

Brasilia is expected to announce in September which shortlisted company — Boeing of the United States, Dassault of France, or Saab of Sweden — will supply 36 combat aircraft to replace Brazil’s aging fleet of 12 French-made Mirage-2000 jets.

The procurement is part of a $15 billion plan by Latin America’s biggest economy to update and expand its military capabilities to face 21st century threats in the region, and to protect precious resources in its vast territory.

France’s Rafale F3 fighter is seen as the favorite of Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, in large part because it is the only bid that includes an offer to share technology with Brazil.

The Latin American country is keen to give its own Embraer aircraft-making group the knowledge needed to make its own high-tech fighters in the future.

But the Rafale is also the most expensive by far of the offers on the table, the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper noted Sunday.

The newspaper said the estimated price-per-plane of the Rafale is around $130 million, not including weapons and support.

Boeing’s multi-role F/A-18 Super Hornet, estimated at $90 million per unit, is used by many US-allied air forces around the world.

But Brazil has taken note of the US Congress’ ability to veto military technology and support, as it did with Venezuela when US relations with the country soured, forcing Caracas to turn to Russia for aircraft and tanks.

Sweden’s Gripen NG is the cheapest of the bids, at around $60 million per plane, but it is the least powerful of the three — and no prototype for it exists yet.

The value of the total fighter jet contract is between $2 billion and $4 billion, depending on which bid is chosen, and will include five years of logistics and support, and a supply of air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles and bombs. Deliveries are to start in 2014.

Brazil’s air force is to give its evaluation of the three offers to Jobim in the next few days, Folha de S. Paulo said.

The report will highlight the pros and cons of each plane without excluding any of them, military officials and sources close to the tender process told the daily.

The countries and companies competing have actively wooed Brazil.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is to attend Brazil’s Independence Day celebrations in Brasilia on September 7. In December last year, he signed deals worth $11 billion to supply Brazil with four Scorpene submarines and 51 Cougar military transport helicopters.

The leader of the French senate, Gerard Larcher, in June also stressed to Brazilian lawmakers that technology-transfer was part of the relationship between their two countries.

Boeing, meanwhile, has reportedly offered to use Brazilian suppliers for some of the F/A-18’s components if it wins the contract.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US military, Admiral Mike Mullen, also visited Brazil in March for talks with Jobim on the tender and other military issues.

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