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F-X BR / FX-2 - 2008-2012

On 18 December 2008, President Lula signed the National Defense Strategy, concluding a fifteen month drafting exercise. The document was principally drafted by Minister for Strategic Planning Roberto Mangabeira Unger, and it provides a security policy framework that places defense in the context of the government's broader goal of national development. Brazil had never conducted a wide discussion about its own defense affairs throughout its history.

The strategy for defense and development is built around the concept of "independence." In the government's vision, Brazil should be able to control its own security and not have to go outside its own borders in order to equip its security forces. The strategy allows for "strategic partners," but these are seen as countries willing to transfer to Brazil technologies that will make Brazil more independent, not as collaborators in security operations. Similarly, where Brazil currently does not have the capability to produce defense equipment, it should, according the document, seek to purchase the appropriate articles from foreign suppliers, but with the aim of allowing for domestic production. This point is clearly illustrated by the prescriptive language on acquisition of modern fighter aircraft which rejects the "extreme solution" of simply buying foreign-made planes and called for the Air Force to either 1) purchase aircraft of which Brazil can then produce its own upgraded variant, or 2) purchase a minimal number of foreign planes which then can be augmented by domestic production of the same model. Given the relatively small number of aircraft to be ultimately acquired by the Air Force, neither option makes economic sense, but Unger places a greater importance on "independence" than military capability or efficient use of resources.

The National Defense Strategy stated that "it is of utmost importance to avoid any gaps of aerial protection in the period 2015-2025, during which the current fleet of fighter aircrafts will have to be substituted, as well as the bundled weapon and intelligent weapon systems, including the inertial systems that allow directing the fire to the target with accuracy and beyond visual reach."

The (long-standing) affinity for the French, which was amply reciprocated by President Sarkozy and his government, has been most evident in the FX-2 fighter competition, in which both Lula and Defense Minister Nelson Jobim expressed a clear preference for the French aircraft despite Brazilian Air Force evaluations that show the clear superiority and cheaper price of the U.S. fighter. the purpose of the Brazilian Air Force's purchase of these planes extends beyond simple defensive capabilities. The GoB wants to build an entire industry around them, for which it needs the technology transfer license. This is what has allowed France to remain such a strong contender in the field, even though it is still in a design phase and technically inferior, while hampering Boeing's bid.

Boeing's proposal combined cutting edge technology with a strong package of industrial cooperation. While the Super Hornet was clearly Brazil,s best option both because of its capabilities and the advantages that interoperability with the U.S. military will bring, it was perceived as an underdog in the competition. This was because of an effective disinformation campaign from a few members of the Brazilian press with an anti-U.S. agenda that has led most Brazilian decision makers to believe that the U.S. will not transfer superior military technology to Brazil.

By February 2009 observers emphasized the importance of the political dimension of this decision. Even if Brazil received full technology transfer, this would not achieve one of the principal goals of the program, job creation. Building a jet fighter is a difficult process and that the only way to truly learn how to build a plane is to develop the aircraft from the very beginning. Not even technology transfer can accomplish this, because it is through trial and error that a company learns how to actually build an aircraft. The government of Brazil ultimately wanted to create jobs from this sale and to do so, they needed a partner who can work with Embraer to develop a next-generation aircraft in Brazil.

Embraer wanted Boeing to be that partner. As recently has 2004 Embraer was partnered exclusively with the Dassault Mirage bid in the competition for Brazil's next generation jet fighter competition. By 2009 Embraer proposed matching the sale of the F-18s with a comparable purchase of Embraer Super Tucanos, assembled at the Embraer facility in Florida. Such a creative way to add value to the Boeing bid could be a convincing step in the government's decision. Embraer privately hoped Boeing wins the contract, though publicly they must remain neutral, as discussion of civilian aviation collaboration could confuse the selection process for the FX2.

Defense officials have stated that creation of a domestic arms industry is an essential part of the bidding process. The head of the Brazilian Air Force has said that he prefers the F-18, and most experts believe it to be technologically superior. As it stands, the RFP calls for a relatively small number of planes (36), and Boeing officials have told Embraer that it is not economical to assemble or manufacture F-18s in Brazil. This fact would not allow for the creation of significant numbers of jobs in Brazil, something was key to winning the contract. However, if Boeing and Embraer were to partner in the development of a Brazilian next-generation jet fighter, the technology transfer and job creation concerns would be addressed, and potentially make Boeing's bid for the FX2 more likely to succeed.

After hosting French President Sarkozy in Brasilia for Brazilian Independence Day celebrations, President Lula announced on 07 September 2009 that Brazil was entering advanced negotiations to purchase 36 French-made Rafale fighters. The following day Brazil's Defense Ministry confirmed that the selection process was not closed and the U.S. contender was still under consideration. With a lower cost and stronger offset program, Boeing was well-positioned to win on the merits of its bid, but faces a presumption in the Brazilian political community that doing business with the United States is negative for Brazil.

Editorial in center-right O Estado de S. Paulo (11 September 2009 ) said: "....The more we know the circumstances that led to President Lula's announcement to purchase the 36 fighter planes from France, the less his decision making process can be taken seriously....The first consequence of this type of move...is a loss of confidence.....[Lula's international advisor Marco Aurelio Garcia] will soon find out that there is no such a thing as unrestricted technology transfer...."

President Lula committed Brazil to France based on a personal choice whose motives seemed questionable to some. According to an editorial in center-right O Estado de S. Paulo (06 January 2010): "He just forgot to reach common ground with the military.....the idea that the Rafale is indispensable to the strategic partnership between France and Brazil is unsustainable, because this partnership has already been established by the submarine deal....postponing the decision is likely to be less onerous for Lula, but this would mean leaving Brazil's jet fighter fleet obsolete for any type of aerial combat. ...."

An editorial in liberal Folha de S. Paulo (06 January 2010) noted ".....announcing the preference for the French model when the bid was still underway was not only disrespectful but a lousy way of trying to reduce the price...... Maybe Brazil will acquire more knowledge, profits and technology by choosing the French option, but it may be dangerously dependent on the whims of French government. The debate in these terms is legitimate and there are good arguments on both sides. But any decision cannot be made without a rigorous technical evaluation."

An op-ed in liberal Folha de S. Paulo (07 January 2010) by Eliane Catanhede notes: ".....a U.S. or French representative - I'm not disclosing who - used a provocation similar to one used by French Minister Herve Morin against the [Swedish] Gripen NG: 'Does Brazil prefer a Mercedes or a Beetle?' The answer seems obvious but is not. A rich and 'bellicose' country that invades Pakistan and Afghanistan with no timidity certainly [in an allusion to the U.S.] prefers the Mercedes. But in Brazil, good-natured and with a tight budget, it is an expensive and nonsensical luxury. Maybe it would be more adequate, as the FAB (Brazilian Air Force) is saying, to have a Beetle: a smaller plane, lighter, for half the price, with lower maintenance costs and an ability to perform well in a possible attack....the plane would also provide technology more directly, with ramifications for private companies and good opportunities for business .....the price factor is not an irrelevant one. The Lula Administration ends in one year but the debt will remain......for 30 years.....And who is going to pay? FAB, which concluded the last generation Beetle is good enough for a country like Brazil."

An op-ed in liberal Folha de S. Paulo (08 January 2010) by columnist Eliane Catanhede opined: "...The question in place [at the moment] is whether the partnership between Brazil and France is enough to justify the purchase of the Rafale fighter plane.... The GOB seems to be divided between those who want to support the Air Force's report [which indicates preference for the Swedish jet] and the pro-French who support the Rafale at any cost and see only the political aspects.....In the end, what does 'strategic' really mean. The alliance between the Sarkozy and Lula's Administrations or an Air Force package between two countries that will last for the next 30 years and will have industrial and technological impact?"

Editorial in business oriented Valor Economico (11 January 2010) states: "Stuck since the beginning of the decade, the fighter plane bid is running the risk of being postponed once more. ...[and] the low level transparency of the process [only] contributes to that....[Brazilian] society must be informed of how and why the country will spend more than R$10 billion in armaments. ....Exchanging the expensive for the cheap requires convincing explanations for the good of a democracy that wants to be solid [in an allusion to Foreign Minister Amorim's comments that "sometimes the cheapest option, referring to Saab's proposal, ends up being the most expensive.]"

As of early 2011 the Brazilian government had set no deadline to make a decision on purchasing 36 jet fighter aircraft from among three competing overseas suppliers - the F/A-18 Super Hornet, made by Boeing; France's Rafale by Dassault Aviation; and Sweden's Gripen NG by Saab AB. The contract thought to be valued at between $4 billion and $7 billion. Originally, France was thought to have the inside track. During a 2009 Brazilian visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva expressed a personal preference for the French jet, but Lula left office at the end of 2010.

In March 2011 President Barack Obama on Saturday made a pitch for US fighter planes in his bilateral meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff raised the issue, according to Dan Restrepo, senior director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, who said that "President Obama underscored that the F-18 is the best plane on offer, ... The technology transfer package is the equivalent...to the packages that are offered to partners and allies around the world."

In May 2011, Andrew J. Shapiro, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs travelled to Brazil to conduct the first US-Brazil Political-Military talks in five years. During these talks and throughout his trip, he advocated for the sale of the F-18 Super Hornet as part of the Brazilian Air Force FX-2 competition. He also emphasized the US commitment to release very sensitive technology to Brazil as part of the proposal, as the believes this sale would significantly bolster the bilateral relationship.

Brazil is in a position to more or less take over the Gripen project due to its sheer industrial might and size. Brazil has a large and developed aerospace industry which could benefit from such a union. Sweden's defence needs are too small to be the anchor customer for further production of the Gripen. As long as Sweden maintained production capacity, it is not a problem if Gripen in some respects move to Brazil.



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