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18 Dec 13. Reuters announced that after a decade of discussion, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff announced on Wednesday the acquisition of 36 Gripen NG fighter jets, from Sweden’s Saab, for the FX-2 program of the Brazilian Air Force. Defense Minister Celso Amorim and General Juniti Saito, the air force’s chief of staff, will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. EST, for the official announcement.

The decision puts an end to 10 years of speculation and delays on the transaction, which started as a plan under former President Luiz Inácio de Lula. Three contenders stepped up to the bid: France’s Dassault, with the Rafale model; Boeing Co with the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet; and the eventual winners, Saab with the smaller Gripen. In the early stages of the negotiation, Lula expressed preference for the Rafale, but the French contender fell out of favor at the end of Lula’s second and last term in 2010, and was finally rejected on Tuesday due to its high cost.

Boeing was considered the stronger bid, but following the revelation that the U.S. National Security Agency had been spying on Brazilian officials and companies, including on the president herself, the relationship between Brazil and the U.S. frayed. Rousseff even canceled a visit to the White House, scheduled for September, as a show of protest. Therefore, Gripen, which was initially criticized for its smaller size and for not being tested enough in combat, ended up getting the crown. The 36 planes were offered for $6bn, but government officials believe the final cost can go down to $5bn.

According to a study by defense publishing group Jane’s, the Gripen has the lowest operational cost of any Western fighter jet currently for sale, at $4,700 per hour compared to $11,000 for the Boeing F/A-18 and $16,500 for the Dassault Rafale.

The Gripen is however smaller than either the Boeing or Dassault jets, with one engine instead of two. It can carry a maximum load of 5 metric tons of weapons compared to about 9 for the Rafale and 8 for the F/A-18. Compared to its two rivals the Gripen is closer to the Dassault Mirage 2000, the fighter it would replace, which is also a single-engine jet with broadly similar characteristics. The Rafale and F/A-18 would have been a major upgrade for the Brazilian Air Force in terms of size and complexity.

The Brazilian order is the biggest export success to date for the Gripen. Saab has sold most of the about 200 Gripens in service today to its home customer, the Swedish air force. South Africa has bought 26 and Thailand 18. Switzerland has also bought 22 of the same advanced version, the Gripen E, that Brazil has selected, but that purchase is still subject to the possibility of being blocked by a public referendum next year.

The Czech Republic and Hungary also operate the Gripen, but have not actually bought the aircraft; they are leasing some airplanes from the Swedish air force. (Source: International Business Times)

BATTLESPACE Comment: This is bad news for Dassault in particular which for some time had been clear favourite to win this contract with the Rafale. The firm, which is still negotiating the crucial Indian contract has few options left to bolster its flagging order book and production line. Boeing had also hoped that Brazil would order the F/A-18 which again would have supported its flagging order book. This order is good for Europe and UK in particular where Selex will supply the radar and some avionics and GKN the engines and cockpit canopy.

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