Monday, July 13th 2009 - 11:52 UTC

France best positioned for Brazil’s Air Force 4.5 billion USD contract

US defence contractor Boeing Co is prepared to have Brazilian companies supply a “big portion” of components for its Super Hornet jetfighter, creating as many as 5.000 local jobs, to sell 36 of the warplanes to Brazil. The pledge comes as Boeing manoeuvres against competitors France’s Dassault Aviation and Sweden’s Saab AB.

Dassault’s Rafale, the Super Hornet F18 and Sweden’s Grippen are competing to supply Brazil with 120 fighter planes.

Jim Albaugh, head of Boeing’s defence unit, said agreements have been signed with 27 Brazilian companies that are capable of producing parts for the F/A-18, including EMBRAER, the world’s fourth-largest airplane maker.

“A big portion of the F-18 will be built in Brazil” said Albaugh in an interview in Brasilia. “For every dollar that goes toward that airplane, that money will come back to Brazil as manufacturing, software, avionics, and electronics”.

Brazil, Latinamerica’s biggest economy is beefing up its military after years of neglect and seeking to rebuild its arms industry. President Lula da Silva is expected to award the contract, which analysts say could be worth as much as 4.5 billion US dollars, as early as next month.

Two other contenders are also poised for the contract. Sweden Saab AB, maker of the Gripen warplane is prepared to shift as much as 50% of future Gripen production to Brazil, Bob Kemp, marketing chief for the 50 million USD fighter plane was quoted last week by the Brazilian press.

But the toughest is France’s Dassault Aviation. The Dassault Mirage 2000 is currently Brazil’s most-advanced warplane. French officials have “clearly stated their openness” to cooperate with Brazil in the technology field, Yves Robins, deputy corporate communication of Dassault Aviation, said in an interview this week.

Under the tender guidelines, probably for 120 fighter planes, the company that wins the contract is required to transfer technology to Brazil equal to the full purchase price of the planes.

“Our main goal is technology access,” Brazil’s Defence Minister Nelson Jobim has repeatedly stated.

French Dassault has been Brazil’s top arms supplier since 1978, when President Jimmy Carter banned US arms sales to Latinamerica, fearing an arms race among the reigning military juntas. The policy was reversed in 1997.

Besides French President Nicolas Sarkozy has lobbied strongly for the deal, which would be the Dassault’s Rafale’s first international sale. During a visit last December, Sarkozy signed contracts worth 8 billion euros to build 50 Super Cougar helicopters and five submarines.

Lula da Silva invited Sarkozy as Brazil’s guest of honour at its independence day September 7. After meeting him in Paris last week, Lula da Silva said he hopes to sign new defence accords at that time.

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