RIO DE JANEIRO, April 9 (UPI)
Piecemeal upgrades to Brazilian air force inventory are threatening to overshadow the Latin American country's most important -- and most delayed -- plan to discard aging war jets and replace them with a brand-new inventory.
Brazilian military analysts say the defense establishment's perceived priorities are not receiving the attention they deserve from President Dilma Rousseff's administration.
Brazilian air force plans to upgrade its fighting capability have been stymied by delays over the acquisition of new fighter jets.
Brazil has been planning to re-equip and upgrade its air force for well over three decades and has had programs in place over the long period to buy new equipment. The return to democratic rule reignited interest in the air force acquisition program and a shortlist of potential suppliers produced three finalists in 2006.
The revamped FX-2 air force acquisition program decided on rival bids from Boeing Co.'s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the French Dassault Aviation's Rafale and Swedish firm Saab's Gripen NG.
But the selection process appeared to have been derailed before it could reach the next stage, an actual selection of a winning aircraft, after former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was swayed by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy to favor Rafale.
Both Lula and Sarkozy are out of power but the diplomatic and legal complications created by Lula's deal with the French lingers. Meanwhile Brazil still has no word on the fighter jet it will choose.
The military wants Rousseff to decide soon, but the president now has a new reason to delay decision. Brazil is in an economic downturn and state cutbacks have hit spending across the board.
In the meantime, the air force is making the most of opportunities to upgrade whatever it can and, analysts say, possibly spend more than necessary in the process.
The delays in Brazil's FX-2 program surfaced again when a senior Brazilian air force officer, Maj.-Gen. Carlos de Almeida Baptista, cited the problem during a recent address in Rio de Janeiro. Baptista's comments came on the eve of the Latin American Aerospace and Defense show in the city, Flight International reported.
Brazilian military chiefs are reported unhappy with government-led insistence on maximum technology transfer deals and more emphasis on choosing a jet best suited to Brazil's strategic and tactical conditions.
Last month Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer said it would modernize more of the country's ageing Northrop F-5E fighters and F-model trainers.
Embraer is also upgrading more than 40 of the air force AMX light-attack aircraft, adding new avionics that are likely to be compatible across the military's fleet.
Brazil says its military modernization program is also geared toward expanding defense capabilities to include offshore oil and gas fields.
This month Saab received an additional Brazilian air force order for upgrading its Erieye Airborne Early Warning and Control Mission System used.
The $50.2 million order is for upgrading the service's Embraer-145 planes.