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F-X BR / FX-2 - 2004-2007

One of President Lula's first acts after taking office on 01 January 2003 was to postpone a decision on the F-X jet fighter competition. On 31 December 2004, the Best and Final Offers (BOFAs) for the competition to select Brazil's new generation high performance jet fighter (F-X) expired. Despite repeated GOB postponements during the previous 12 months on a decision, the F-X program had still retained a breath of life thanks to repeated hints from former Defense Minister Viegas that a F-X award decision would be forthcoming. Throughout the process, however, the Lula administration was reluctant to commit to a choice. With the end of the validity of the BOFAs the following week, the F-X program was officially dead.

The principal cause of the program's demise, most observers agreed, was the F-X program's steep price tag, around $700 million plus for the purchase of a dozen high performance aircraft. The huge cost, at a time when the Lula administration was engaged in fiscal austerity, made the program a politically impossible sell. The Brazilian Congress, which still had not concluded the 2005 budget, had not included jet fighters in its budget, and, in fact, provided very little money overall for defense. Yet, until November 2004, more than a few senior Brazilian Air Force (FAB) officers held out hope that FAB would get its new jets. When Russian President Putin departed Brazil last month without a deal in place for the Sukhoi SU-35 -- after offering to purchase 50 Embraer commercial aircraft as a deal sweetener and certainly dangling a possible agreement on ending the Russian embargo on Brazilian beef -- the last best chance for new fighter aircraft for FAB left with him.

Other factors contributed to the F-X impasse. The Brazilian military's almost insatiable need for weapons systems upgrade and procurement required that the GOB triage the competing demands for funding. FAB already had been granted approval for buying ten new Black Hawk helicopters (about $153 million). With both the army and navy biting at FAB's heels for funding their own urgent requirements, the new jet fighters became a harder sell.

In view of the lack of any perceived threat, the strategic question of whether Brazil needed the F-X whose primary purpose was protection of the national capital, has received relatively little debate. The program itself ultimately owed its continued rationale less to the defense of Brasilia than as a tool of national pride, particularly following Chile's purchase of F-16s. Even some air force generals admit the principal current threat to Brazilian sovereignty (from narco-trafficers) can be addressed less expensively by other air force elements such as FAB's Super Tucanos.

F-X competitors refused to go down without a fight. Planted news articles in praise of one aircraft or attacking another (usually the F-16, and the alleged, and false, denial by the USG to provide AAMRAM capability to Brazil) continued to pop up. One example of F-X muckraking was a cover story in left-leaning nationalist magazine Carta Capital in praise of the Mirage 2000 of the Embraer-Dassault consortium. In the Carta Capital article, Embraer President Mauricio Botelho, in a direct swipe at Lockheed-Martin, is quoted as saying that because the USG won't allow it, U.S. companies offer "no chance" for transfer of military-related technology -- a bizarre comment in the wake of the winning Embraer--Lockheed-Martin bid for the development of the U.S. Army's Aerial Common Sensor System aircraft. Even Sweden's Grippen aircraft has received high profile lobbying with a prominent billboard at the entrance to Brasilia airport.

Throughout much of the long-running F-X competition -- while Lockheed Martin's F-16 was one of the competitors -- the U.S. company had urged the GOB consider the purchase of used F-16s as a significantly less costly option to the F-X. Although an attempt by Lockheed-Martin in early 2003 to ally with Varig Engineering and Maintenance (VEM) for a proposed upgrade of used F-16s fell through, the company remains upbeat it will be able to partner with a Brazilian firm (possibly Embraer) to craft an attractive used aircraft offer. Ultimately, Lockheed Martin believed it can provide fully capable F-16 aircraft at less than half the cost of the F-X. One driving factor, however, will be the ability of FAB to conduct inter-operable aerial refueling for any fighter. Brazil was considering purchasing two or three KC-135s to augment their refueling capability. Procurement of KC-135s from the U.S. would be a positive indicator for purchase of used F-16s.

In recognition that new aircraft will be unobtainable, senior FAB leadership, including FAB's probable next Commander in Chief, increasingly seemed to have come around to accepting used F-16s as Brazil's best aircraft option. In this context, the F-16 appeared to have the inside track over other used aircraft options, although there are rumors that some in FAB may be looking at procuring used South African Cheetahs, a modified Mirage III aircraft one generation older than the early F-16 models. Meanwhile, the Brazilian Congress which had been absent from the F-X debate, tried to get into the picture.

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Page last modified: 15-09-2013 19:03:04 ZULU