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F-X BR / FX-2 - Rafale

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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Page last modified: 11-02-2016 19:56:23 ZULU