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Companies woo Brazil as it looks for new fighter jets

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Mirage III will retire from the Brazilian Air Force, after 67,000 flight hours and 33 years of service

BRASILIA (BNS): Apart from India's order for 126 multi-role fighter jets, leading combat aircraft manufacturers of the world are engaged in another battle on the other side of the globe in Brazil.

The biggest Latin American country is looking to replace its fleet of Mirage fighters with 36 new planes. Indications are the order might be stretched to 100. The Mirage III will soon retire from the Brazilian Air Force, after 67,000 flight hours and 33 years of service.

Hectic lobbying is on from the companies in fray. A report said that the US had stepped up effort in convincing Brazil to buy Boeing F-18 Super Hornet fighter jet. The same aircraft is also being offered to India.

Agencies reported that the US embassy in Sao Paulo issued a statement that it is encouraging Brazil to buy the aircraft manufactured by aviation giant Boeing. But the US administration is silent on the aspect of technology transfer. Brazil has made it clear that it is not only looking to buy the aircraft but also wants manufacturers to transfer the technology to produce jets indigenously. The US administration has put its weight behind Boeing's bid but it would have to take a stand on Brazil's demand.

Brazil has short-listed F-18 along with fighters from Dassault Aviation's Rafael and Saab's Gripen NG. Unlike Boeing, its competitors had no issues with the transfer of technology.

On their way to being short-listed, the three companies defeated entries from Russia's Su-35, Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin's F-16. The first plane might be ordered only by next year and the deliveries would start only in 2014.

Brazil's strategic affairs minister Roberto Mangabeira was quoted as saying that "we will not simply be buyers or clients, but partners".

The race for Brazilian Air Force fighters is said to be a prelude to the Indian contract. Like India, Brazil is also a leading developing country and has an active defence market. It is among the top ten arms exporter in the world. The industry had nose dived in the 1990s but is being revived now.

The winner of Brazilian fighter jet contract will also emerge as frontrunner for the Indian order. However, companies feel that the Indian requirements were much more complex and extensive.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is hoping that it would invite the companies for flight trials of their products by next year. At the moment, the IAF officials are going through the bids which run into thousands of pages. After the technical evaluation, a final shortlist would emerge. The whole process may take another year.


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