Brazilian Air Force Pushes For Deferred New Fighter

 - August 16, 2013, 11:10 AM
Aging Northrop F-5s will be the frontline fighter in the Brazilian Air Force after it grounds its Mirage 2000s at the end of the year. (Photo: Embraer)

Brazil’s Força Aérea Brasileira (FAB) plans to retire its fleet of Mirage 2000 fighters at the end of this year. The announcement has brought new focus on Brazil’s longstanding but deferred FX-2 new fighter requirement. In testimony to the Brazilian Senate on August 13, FAB Commander Lt. Gen. Juniti Saito defended the need for new fighters to maintain an adequate air defense, as well as for the benefits any purchase would bring to Brazil’s own aerospace sector.

The Mirages, acquired used from France in 2006, were intended to be flown only until 2011 as an interim solution until a new fighter could be procured. Their grounding will leave the FAB with 45 vintage Northrop F-5s as the most modern jet fighters in its inventory. At any one time, nearly 40 percent of the FAB’s 700-plus fleet of aircraft is grounded due to either wear and tear associated with aging airframes or problems created by the extreme climatic conditions of tropical Brazil.

After riotous demonstrations last June in the streets of Brazilian cities protesting government spending on the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics, the assumption was that the FX-2 program would be deferred further. For several years, the three bidding finalists have been Boeing with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet; France with the Dassault Rafale; and Sweden with the Saab JAS-39E/F Gripen. While the Gripen has been widely seen as offering some of the most interesting technology transfer capabilities, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet would allow Brazil’s Embraer to plug into the entirety of Boeing’s worldwide network. Several sources who spoke to AIN in the last months stated that this had boosted the chances for the U.S. fighter to capture the deal.

But documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and printed in the main Rio de Janeiro daily, O Globo, showing U.S. intercepts of Brazilian Internet messages and other eavesdropping have poisoned the waters. The delegation accompanying U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on his visit to Brazil this week has been told that the fighter buy is off the list of items to be discussed.

 “We cannot talk about the fighters now…you cannot give such a contract to a country that you do not trust,” a high-level Brazilian government official told news outlets. This echoes sentiments expressed last month in the Brazilian congress, where there were even calls for all purchases and cooperative programs with the U.S. to be cancelled. There have been numerous calls for President Dilam Rousseff to cancel her planned state visit to the U.S. in October.

Meanwhile, time is working against the FAB, which needs a new fighter soon with the force continually shrinking. Saito pointed out that even after an FX-2 winner is announced, it will take another 12 months for negotiations to be finalized and a contract signed and then another four years to receive the first aircraft, during which time the older F-5s will constitute almost all of the nation’s fighter force. “I am not putting pressure on the government; I am just stating facts,” he said.