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19 Dec 03. The FT reported that the Czech Republic is to lease Gripen fighters from the Swedish government in a move that will strengthen the aircraft’s prospects of winning a hotly contested tender to equip the Brazilian air force.

The Czech announcement that it will lease 14 JAS 39 Gripen aircraft, made by Saab and the UK’s BAE Systems, was made on Wednesday night at a cabinet meeting. They will replace the country’s ageing fleet of Soviet Mig-21 fighters.

The decision comes only weeks before the Brazilian government is expected to decide on the purchase of 12 new fighters, in a deal which could eventually lead to the ordering of 50-60 aircraft.

Owe Wagermark, a spokesman for Gripen International, said the Czech decision showed that more countries were willing to choose the aircraft.

“Of course it will have a very positive impact in Brazil at a time when the final decision-making process is going on,” he said. Gripen faces stiff competition in Brazil from Lockheed Martin’s F-16, Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35 and a joint venture from Brazil’s Embraer and France’s Dassault Aviation that is offering a special version of the Mirage fighter.

On Wednesday Vladimir Spidla, the Czech prime minister, said the government would now start exclusive talks with Sweden in order to sign a final contract.

Although the decision was in line with the recommendation from a Czech commission earlier this month, the government had been lobbied intensively to select one of four rival offers all involving fighters made by Lockheed Martin of the US.

The Czech Republic became a member of Nato in 1999 and follows Hungary as the second Nato country to choose the Gripen ahead of the F-16, which is used by 10 of the alliance members. The Gripen is in service with the Swedish air force and has also been bought by South Africa. BAE Saab won a tender to sell 24 of the aircraft to the Czech Republic in 2002. But the Czech government dropped out of the deal in the aftermath of catastrophic flooding that hit public finances.

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