Correction: A previous version of this story included an image of an F-5 aircraft with an erroneous caption. The image has been changed.
SANTIAGO, Chile — Brazil is set to order four Saab-Embraer F-39E jets in addition to the 36 already purchased in 2014 under a $4.7 billion contract. The country is also considering ordering another batch of at least 30 F-39E fighters — the local designation of the JAS 39E Gripen NG.
Sweden’s Gripen NG was officially selected in 2013 to provide the Brazilian Air Force with an advanced, fourth-generation-plus fighter jet under the F-X program. The decision followed a protracted process launched in the mid-1990s, which suffered several delays and was even suspended by then-President Fernando Henriquez Cardoso in 2002. It was restarted in 2008 by then-President Luiz da Silva.
The head of Brazil’s Air Force, Gen. Carlos de Almeida Baptista Jr., made the extra order announcement during a combat aviation celebration April 22 at the Santa Cruz Air Force Base in Rio de Janeiro.
During the event, two F-39s — received from Sweden earlier this month, raising the number of F-39s delivered to Brazil to five — were presented and declared operational. The full delivery of 36 aircraft is expected to be complete in 2024, but some experts believe it could take longer.
A second large order of the Gripen is needed to achieve a minimum fleet of 70 new fighter jets, down from the original target of 100 aircraft under the F-X program, according to a local June 2021 news report citing de Almeida shortly after he took command of the Air Force.
No price tag was given for the additional order, but experts believe it will cost Brazil about $240 million, and a potential order for 30 more could cost between $1.8 billion and $2 billion.
The additional orders would make F-X one the most expensive military procurement programs in the history of South America, rivaled only by the PROSUB contract, awarded by Brazil to French shipbuilder DCNS (now known as Naval Group) in 2009 for four diesel-electric submarines. The deal included extensive transfers of technology as well as local design training for building a nuclear-powered boat.
The $4.7 billion contract signed in 2014 for the Gripen jets included not only the procurement cost of the first 36 aircraft but also a high degree of technology transfer and industrial investments for assembly and parts production in Brazil.
The testing and integration of the systems and weapons that will equip Brazilian Gripens is ongoing. Weapons include the advanced IRIS-T short-range, infrared-guided air-to-air missile, developed and produced by Diehl Defence of Germany, as well as the beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile Meteor, made by European consortium MBDA.
José Higuera is a Latin America correspondent for Defense News.