Brazil has rejected a contract for Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter jets in favor of the Swedish Saab’s JAS 39 Gripens. The unexpected move to reject the US bid comes amid the global scandal over the NSA’s involvement in economic espionage activities.
The announcement for the purchase of 36 fighters was made Wednesday by Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim and Air Force Commander Junti Saito. The jets will cost US$4.5 billion, well below the estimated market value of around US$7 billion.
Saito said the development of the fighters will occur in conjunction with Embraer and other unspecified companies.
The 12 Mirage aircraft currently in use by the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) will be retired at the end of this year. They were acquired by Brazil in 2005. As it waits for the new fighters, the FAB will use the F5 style, which will stay viable up to 2025.
During a visit in Brasilia last week, French President Francois Hollande was accompanied by an entourage that included the president of Dassault Group, stirring speculation that the French jet manufacturer had the edge over Saab and Boeing.
Competition over which company would win the right to supply Brazil with the fighter jets began in the late 1990s during Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s administration, continued during Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s time in office and into current President Rousseff’s term. A FAB report in 2010 indicated a preference in Saab, though then-President Lula leaned toward the cheaper Dassault jet, Rafale.
Boeing was considered to have the inside track to win the contract earlier this year, yet revelations of intrusive surveillance of global officials’ communications, including those of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, by the US government’s National Security Agency led to distrust of the American company.
“The NSA problem ruined it for the Americans,” a Brazilian government source told Reuters.
The Chicago-based Boeing’s bid was rejected because of Saab’s better performance and cost of its aircraft as well as “willingness to transfer technology,” defense minister Celso Amorim said, as cited by Bloomberg.