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F-X BR / FX-2

The Brazilian government announced 18 December 2013 the selection of Gripen NG. The announcement today will be followed by negotiations with the Brazilian Air Force aiming at a procurement of 36 Gripen NG. The offer presented to the Brazilian Government by Saab includes Gripen NG, sub-systems for Gripen NG, an extensive technology transfer package, a financing package as well as long term bi-lateral collaboration between the Brazilian and Swedish Governments. The announcement would be followed by negotiations with the Brazilian Air Force aiming at a procurement of 36 Gripen NG.

The new generation F-X fighter program is one of Brazil's most important military modernization efforts. On November 4, 2007 the F-X Project was revived. In January 2008, Brazil’s President Lula authorized Brazilian Air Force Commander Juniti Saito to restart the long-delayed F-X fighter replacement program. As of late 2008 a decision was to be made in March 2009, with a final contract award in October of 2009. But in 2011 Brazil postponed the expected purchase to 2012, citing the need for budget cuts in 2011 due to the deteriorating world economy.

The fighter jet saga was spurred by the release of the Brazilian National Defense Strategy in December 2008. Amidst all the concerns to deal with, in Air Force development, the item that inspires more active and pressing efforts is the way to substitute the current fighter aircraft in the period 2015-2025, as to extend their life by modernizing their weapon systems, their avionics and parts of their structure and fuselage no longer exists. Brazil, in that matter, faces the current dilemma all over the world: maintain the priority of future capacities over the current expenses, without tolerating air unprotection. It is necessary to invest in the capacities that ensure independent production potential of its air defense means. It cannot, however, accept the lack of an air shield while it gathers the conditions to gain such independence. The solution to be given to this problem is so important, and exerts so different effects on the country’s strategic situation in South America and in the world, that it transcends a mere discussion on equipment acquisition and deserves to be understood as a part of the National Strategy of Defense.

The generic principle of the solution is that of refusing extreme solutions – either merely purchasing a “fifth generation” fighter aircraft in the international market, or sacrificing the purchase to invest in the modernization of the existing aircraft, in unmanned aerial vehicle projects, in the joint development of a futurist manned jet fighter prototype along with another country, and in the massive training of the scientific and technical personnel. A hybrid solution seems to be convenient. A solution that provides fighter aircrafts within the necessary time period, but doing this in a way to create the conditions for the national manufacturing of advanced manned jet fighters.

This hybrid solution may meet either of two models. Although these two models may theoretically co-exist, in practical terms one of them shall prevail upon the other. Both exceed by far the conventional limits of purchasing along with technology transfer, or “off-set”, and involve a substantial initiative in terms of design and manufacturing in Brazil. They achieve the same goals via different pathways.

According to the first model, a partnership would be established, with one or more countries, to design and manufacture in Brazil the substitute for a fifth-generation jet fighter on sale in the international market, within the relevant timeframe. The substitute would be designed and made in a way to overcome the significant technical and operational limitations of the current version of that aircraft (its operation range, its limitations in terms of vectored thrust, its lack of low radar signature, for example). The solution in focus would provide simultaneous responses to both the problems of technical limitation and technological independence.

According to the second model, a fifth-generation jet fighter would be purchased in a negotiation involving the full transfer of technology, including the aircraft’s design and manufacturing technologies, and their relevant “source-codes.” The purchase would be made at the minimum necessary scale allowing the full transfer of these technologies. A Brazilian company starts producing a substitute for that purchased aircraft, under the guidance of the Brazilian State, authorized by prior negotiation with the selling country and company. The solution in focus would occur in a sequence, and not concurrently.

The choice of either model is a matter of circumstance and negotiation. Another point that might be decisive is the need of choosing an option that minimizes technological or political dependence related to any vendor that, by holding the aircraft components to be purchased or modernized, may intend, because of this participation, to inhibit or influence on defense initiatives unleashed by Brazil.

The Brazilian Air Force had 110 jets dating from the 1970s and 1980s that are too old and outdated for a country whose needs include patrolling 5 million square miles of territory, 10.5 million miles of national border, and vast offshore oil platforms. Brazil's most modern aircraft were 12 French Mirage 2000s, purchased second-hand and approaching their retirement dates. By contrast, neighbors Chile and Venezuela had 29 F-16s and 24 Sukhoi 30s respectively, both representing the most advanced models available. With Hugo Chavez buying over $3 billion in aircraft, tanks, and assault weapons from Russia, Brazil also sought to enhance its regional military capabilities.

Now known as Project FX-2 and with a bigger budget, the initial competitors for acquisition were the Eurofighter Typhoon, Sukhoi Su-35, Saab Gripen, Dassault Rafale, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and, although information on Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II was requested, Lockheed Martin presented an F-16 Fighting Falcon variant (designated F-16BR). In October 2008 Brazil's F-X2 fighter competition eliminated three of the six bidders as the focus shifts to scrutinising the technology transfer and offset proposals for each of the finalists Boeing's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet was a finalist along with the French Rafale and the Swedish Gripen. Five criteria will be used to make a decision: the quality of the platform, the technology being offered, the training being offered, the price, and the life-cycle cost.

The outstanding performance and capabilities of the Typhoon are not always a requirement for every Air Force. The Eurofighter Typhoon and the Rafale were more (in terms of performance and cost) than Brazil needed which explains why the Eurofighter Typhoon was discounted from the Brazil competition early. The Air Forces of India, Japan, Switzerland and Greece among others, may have different requirements to Brazil.

Brazil wanted to be the only South American country to produce and develop jet fighters. Brazil had an aerospace industry but it would need several things from other counries such as engines, avionoics, radars ect. Without these, all you have is an airframe. Also, Brazil won't be buying many, so the unit cost of each aircraft would be substantial. Brazil's best option was to find a country that is looking for a similar aircraft and co-develop it with them, then import the engines, avionics and radars.


Three contenders officially remained in the running by late 2013 – the Swedish SAAB Gripen NG, French Dassault Rafale and US Boeing FA-18E/F Super Hornet. The FA-18E/F was close to winning the deal in September 2013, but revelations that the United States National Security Agency had spied on the Brazilian presidential office put the deal on hold. Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff then decided to postpone the tender until 2015, after next year’s elections.

Rumors that Russia and Brazil might join forces on a fifth-generation fighter plane first appeared in the spring of 2010, and had not been refuted. A Russian delegation led by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited Brazil and Peru 14-17 October 2013 to promote sales of Russian weaponry to those countries. The delegation offered joint development of a fifth-generation combat aircraft “of the type” of its own most newest fighter to Brazilian defense officials. The proposal was in support of an unsolicited offer by Russia’s combat aircraft maker Sukhoi of its Su-35 fighter, that had been struck off Brazil’s shortlist for its air force’s F-X2 tender. Russia was still hoping to sell the Su-35s or similar aircraft to Brazil outside the framework of that tender, sweetening the deal with the new proposal for deliveries of ready-for-sale advanced aircraft like the Su-35, but also joint development of a next-generation combat aircraft of the T-50 type, featuring "stealth" technology," super-maneuverability, super-cruise capability, and advanced avionics.


One U.S. origin fighter, the F-18 Super Hornet, was under consideration in the Brazilian Air Force (BRAF) competition for Brazil's next fighter aircraft, along with the Eurofighter Typhoon, the SU-35, the Gripen and the Rafale. There were a number of political factors working against a decision to purchase the F-18. The Brazilian Air Force leadership was said to prefer that Brazil's next generation fighter be the F-35, but politics and a more aggressive French sales approach gave the advantage to the French Rafale, an aircraft nobody wants. While the RFI contains considerable detail on performance requirements for the new fighter, the key criterion for the decision will be the economic benefit to Brazil, i.e. the offset packages to be offered by bidders. With no immediate airborne threats to Brazil, combat lethality will be a lesser consideration, although Brazil will also consider what they perceive to be the prestige of owning a modern fighter. The lesser prestige of an older design led to the F-16 being left out, even though it could fulfill most Brazilian defense requirements at a lower cost than other options.

On 29 September 2008, the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) announced its three finalists for Brazil's next generation fighter aircraft (FX2): the Boeing F18 Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale and the Saab Gripen. The winner of the competition will become the backbone of Brazil's Air Force for the next thirty years.

In a joint news conference with French President Sarkozy, 07 September 2009, President Lula said that Brazil would begin negotiations with France for the purchase of thirty-six fighter aircraft. Lula cited France's willingness to transfer technology and the importance of "consolidating" the strategic partnership with France as the reasons for his decision. To bolster the French case, Sarkozy reportedly promised to buy a dozen C390 cargo planes, to be developed by Brazil and to support Rio de Janeiro's bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games. The French reportedly also promised to assist Brazil in exporting future French-Brazilian aircraft to unspecified countries in Latin America and Africa. Almost immediately after the news conference, other Brazilian officials began giving their own version of the announcement. Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said that "there was a decision to negotiate with one supplier. There was no decision in relation to the other two (competitors)." Later press reports indicated that Lula "did not rule out" the US or Swedish planes.

One article reporting that the deal between Brazil and the French aircraft Rafale had been confirmed stated that "The Rafale is more (in terms of performance and cost) than Brazil needs" which explains why the Eurofighter Typhoon was discounted from the competition early. The outstanding performance and capabilities of the Rafale and Typhoon are not always a requirement for every Air Force. The Brazilian defense minister Nelson Jobim said 10. September 2009 “Negotiations in progress will be deepened, redefined and will be continued with the three participants.” This meaning that the deal is not done. Rafale remained the plane to beat in the competition.

Paris used the positive political climate to try to position the Rafale as the winner in the competition to equip the Brazilian Air Force with new fighter aircraft, in the hopes of edging out the American F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Swedish Grippen. Politically motivated, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry decision to publicly announce their intention to go with French company Dassault, which makes the Rafale, over the Brazilian Air Force's preferred Super Hornet stemmed from Lula's close relationship with Sarkozy.

Sarkozy met with Lula four times in 2008 and held four bilateral meetings with his Brazilian counterpart in 2009. Sarkozy presented the myth that France is the perfect partner for states that do not want to rely on U.S. technology, even though the U.S. has agreed in principle to transfer relevant technology if Brazil purchases the F-18. However, if the Rafale sale goes through, Dassault may have to request export-control licenses from the U.S. for parts built with American technology.

The French have from the start guaranteed to give the Brazilians Rafale software source codes that represent the very digital heart of the aircraft, a step the others bidders were reluctant at first to take. After Lula complained to Sarkozy about the "absurd price" of the Rafales at $80 million each, the French president sent him a personal letter stressing French willingness to participate in the "unrestricted transfer" of "technological intelligence" that the Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim had made known was a prerequisite for major arms deals in April 2009. Labeled the "French comparative advantage," the technology transfer appealed to Brazil's desire to not only purchase the Rafale but to manufacture the aircraft in-country and possibly sell them throughout Latin America by 2030.

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