Brazil Muddles F-X2 Fighter Downselect
Brazil has taken two steps forward and one step back in its potential purchase of the Dassault Rafale fighter, but the details of France’s associated aid in development of the Embraer KC-390 tanker/transport remain unclear.
The announcement by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in favor of the Rafale does not appear to be final, although the fighter has been seen as a strong candidate and its position was strengthened by da Silva’s Sept. 7 independence day statement that negotiations to buy 36 Rafales were to commence.
The defense ministry, however, quickly pointed out that the FX-2 program has not come to an end, and that it was still in talks with all three bidders: Saab offering the Gripen NG, Boeing with the F/A-18E/F and Dassault.
Da Silva’s announcement, in the presence of his French counterpart, Nicolas Sarkozy, in effect derailed what had been viewed as a well-run source selection process. The Brazilian president spoke before the country’s air force was even able to submit its technical evaluation, according to industry officials.
France has been aggressively courting Brazil, not just for the Rafale but as part of a broader strategic relationship. In addition to offering to aid the KC-390 development, it will assist in that of a nuclear submarine.
Brazil also has committed to buying 50 EC725 transport helicopters, as well as conventional submarines. In endorsing the Rafale, da Silva said that buying the French aircraft “is the consolidation of a strategic *partnership.”
If the Rafale prevails, it will mark the first export order for the Dassault aircraft, which is the only Western fighter on the export market that has yet to achieve a sale. And, unlike some other deals in the works—such as in the *United Arab Emirates and Libya—it would have come through competition, even if the process ends up being a somewhat tainted one.
Delivery of the Rafale to Brazil would begin in 2013-14. The aircraft configuration being offered includes an active electronically scanned array radar France hopes to introduce into service in 2013.
The initial weapons package associated with Dassault’s Rafale bid comprises the radar and imaging infrared versions of the MBDA Mica air-to-air missile (AAM), as well as the Sagem AASM air-to-surface weapon. The Denel Dynamics A-Darter short-range AAM, a South African development in which Brazil is a partner, would also almost certainly be integrated.
Another weapon that Brazil might require to be included is the AMR-1 *anti-radiation missile built by Brazilian manufacturer Mectron.
Boeing’s F/A-18E/F offer included a small number of Raytheon AGM-88 HARM missiles for defense suppression.
For France, the deal is of importance not just because of the ties to Brazil. It also could allow Paris to slow the rate of its own Rafale purchases when the government is looking to save money. Paris was locked into preserving the Rafale procurement rate at the minimum sustainable level. Brazil’s order, and potentially others, would ensure the production line could be sustained even if France curtails its annual spending.
A key issue to securing the deal in Brazil is technology transfer, and France has chosen to provide that by aiding the development of the KC-390 twin-turbofan tanker/transport. Paris also indicated it may buy 12 of the aircraft.
Brazil’s decision to allow the technology transfer to take place not on the core fighter program but on an unrelated project was a surprise, says an official at one of the other bidding companies.
It also could upset Washington, which struggled to satisfy Brazil’s extensive demands for technology transfer and tried to devise an alternate approach.
Embraer launched the KC-390 this year and is still working on system requirements with the Brazilian air force, although it is making progress toward freezing the basic design, a company official says.
The aircraft maker also has started reaching out to potential suppliers, including those for the 27,000-lb.-thrust powerplants. The KC-390 is to carry 19 metric tons of payload and have a ferry range of around 3,300 naut. mi.
Seeking more buyers for the aircraft, Embraer is in talks with other governments as well as non-military customers, such as the Brazilian postal service.
The French commitment could be viewed as a double blow to the U.S., too, where some officials have harbored hopes that Paris would have to buy at least a small number of Lockheed Martin C‑130Js due to the Airbus A400M military airlifter debacle. Even though the KC-390 will not be fielded for several more years, the prospect of a C-130J commitment from France is now looking less likely.
Exactly how French companies will aid development of the KC-390 has yet to be clarified.
In the fighter realm, the three contenders for Brazil’s program are squaring off as well in India, where the MiG-29 and F-16 are also in the running. The Gripen, Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon are competing in Switzerland for a 22-fighter program, too. Boeing pulled its F/A-18E/F out of that contest.