Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim, left, speaks next to Air Force commander Juniti Saito during a press conference in Brasilia yesterday announcing the purchase of 36 Gripen E fighters for their Air Force. (EVARISTO SA / AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS AND LONDON — Dassault Aviation has lashed out at Brazil’s pick of the Saab Gripen E over the Rafale for its fighter competition, pointing out that the Gripen contains US items and does not perform as well as the Rafale.
Brazil on Wednesday selected the Gripen E for the FX-2 program, a contract worth $4.5 billion for 36 jets to be delivered by 2020.
“We regret that the choice has gone in favor of the Gripen, an aircraft provided with many items of equipment of third party origin, especially US, and [which] does not belong to the same category as the Rafale,” Dassault said through a statement released Wednesday from Rafale International, a team led by the prime contractor, with engine-maker Snecma and electronics specialist Thales.
The problem with including third-party, US-made equipment is that Washington could object to the sale. US engine-maker General Electric provides the Gripen E’s F414 power plant.
The other big international supplier to the new Gripen E version is Britain. About 30 percent — by value — of the aircraft is exported from Britain, predominantly the Raven active electronically scanned array radar developed by Selex ES at its Edinburgh factory in Scotland.
“The Gripen is a lighter, single-engined aircraft that does not match the Rafale in terms of performance and therefore does not carry the same price tag,” Dassault said.
That meant failure for competing offers from Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Dassault Rafale, both twin-engine fighters.
Brazil’s selection failed to take into account the Rafale’s cost-effectiveness and the technology offered, the company said.
Dassault’s offer had “the full backing of the French authorities” and had responded to Brazil’s request for technology transfer, scientific, technical and industrial partnership, the company said.
The French team had planned to cooperate long term with Brazilian industry, particularly with Embraer, Dassault said.
Meanwhile, Saab CEO Håkan Buskhe said Brazil selected the “world-leading and most affordable fighter.”
“This announcement is very significant for the collaboration between Sweden and Brazil. We stand prepared to start the industrial collaboration as planned, with its positive effects for Brazilian industry,” Buskhe said.
The Swedish company said in a statement that the offer to the Brazilian government included an extensive technology transfer package, a financing package as well as long-term, bilateral collaboration between the two governments.
The Rafale was an early favorite of the Brazilian government, even though Saab executives always claimed the Air Force’s technical evaluation of the contenders favored the Gripen E.
More recently, the F/A-18 had taken up the mantle of contest favorite on the back of improving relations between the US and Brazilian administrations — before revelations that Washington has been spying on the government of President Dilma Rousseff.
The Swedish fighter replaces an aging fleet of Mirage 2000s, which the Brazilian Air Force is due to retire this week, Reuters reported.
Saab awaits an expected referendum in Switzerland next year to seal the procurement of 22 Gripen E aircraft. The new variant of the Gripen is under development for the Swedish Air Force and export customers.
Conclusion of the deal with Brazil, likely sometime late next year, means the Swedish company would have to work out a three-way development plan for the Gripen E encompassing Swedish, Brazilian and Swiss industry.
Just hours before the surprise announcement of a winner in the long-running Brazilian contest, Saab announced it had secured a SEK16.4 billion (US $2.4 billion) deal with the Swedish Government for serial production of the Gripen E fighters.
Sixty Gripen C standard aircraft operated by the Swedish Air Force will be upgraded to the new E version; deliveries will begin in 2018.
Analysts said conclusion of the deals with Switzerland and Brazil would give the Gripen E program critical mass and enhance the aircraft’s position in further export contests.
The analysts said it was likely the 36 units being ordered by Brazil would be the first of several tranches of aircraft as the Brazilian Air Force renews its fleet over the next few years.
Doug Barrie, the senior air analyst at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, said the current tender was “always seen as the first buy of possibly as many as 100 aircraft. It’s the start of the order rather than the end of the order, assuming the Brazilians like what they are getting,” he said.
A maritime version of the Gripen could also meet Brazilian Navy requirements to equip an aircraft carrier sometime in the future, he said.
Saab has already carried out early design work on a possible Sea Gripen offering for the export market.
Brazil’s pick of the Gripen E, meanwhile, delivers another blow to Dassault as the family-controlled company also lost out to the Swedish fighter in Switzerland’s fighter competition.
France’s 2014-19 multi-year defense budget counts on export sales of the Rafale, as domestic military spending is under extreme pressure.
Dassault expects a sale of the Rafale to India, which last year picked the French jet for exclusive talks. ■