The final report of the [Brazilian] Air Force Command on the FX-2 program, which involves the purchase of 36 fighters in a deal estimated to be worth over 10 billion Brazilian reals, has satisfied the Presidential Palace. The document indicates that the Rafale aircraft made by the French company Dassault, and the F-18 Super Hornet made by Boeing, have technical and military capabilities that rank them above the Swedish Saab Gripen NG.
The Ministry of Defense confirmed the delivery of the final evaluation report, which comprises 390 pages. A close aide to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has also had access to the document.
The contents of the new report - modified under government pressure, and which now states the French Rafale as the best competitor - contrast with the previous version, in which the Air Force ranked the Gripen NG on top of the list.
Rafale, which is the favorite of Lula and Minister of Defense Nelson Jobim, was ranked in third place by the Air Force, due to its higher costs. The publication of the conclusions by the Folha de Sao Paulo earlier [last] week angered the Presidency, which considered it as an attempt by the Air Force to force through its own choice in the final round, and which was described by government officials harmful to "national security".
"I do not think it’s good to leak to the public a report from Defense. It affects national security. It may not cause problems today, but they may become more visible in the future," said the Lula aide, who had access to the report’s final version.
The new document does not rank the three finalists, as did the previous one. But it details the advantages of the Rafale and F-18 Super Hornet fighters as facts, since these aircraft are in production, tested and have two engines. The Gripen NG must be developed and is single-engined.
Parliamentarians that are following the competition to renew the Air Force’s fleet of combat aircraft consider that the new report unveils hidden in-fighting between the Air Force and the Presidency.
Even if the final report were to point the Rafale as the perfect choice, successive attempts by the Air Force to force the government to back down from its pro-Rafale position were noted by the Presidential Palace, and should result in reprisals.
In October, the Air Force’s top command briefed members of Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Relations and National Defense on the reasons why it considered the Gripen NG more appropriate. The Air Force commander, Brigadier Junit Saito, claimed to a lawmaker that the fact that the Swedish aircraft is still under development would increase the chance of absorption of technology by Embraer. In addition, Saito stressed the advantages of the Gripen NG over its competitors in terms of cost and maintenance.
The final straw, however, was the leak of the initial, pro-Gripen draft of the report, just as the new version was about to be completed.