Sarko the Brazilian: Not So Fast!

It looks like the deal for Brazil to buy 36 French Rafale fighter jets might not be as final as Brazilian President Lula da Silva made it out to be. To begin with, there’s the little technicality, raised by the miffed Air Force command, that its final analysis of the three competing craft (Boeing’s F-18 and Saab’s Gripen, in addition to the Dassault Rafale) isn’t due until late-October. Deviating from that schedule, says Jean-Dominique Merchet, could open the door to legal challenges by the competition. It also risked stepping on some toes in the Brazilian legislature by bypassing the defense appropriations committee.

But there’s also the question of technology transfers, which Lula said were determinant in France’s “successful” bid. Only problem being, as the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia pointed out, that both the U.S. administration and Congress have approved Boeing’s proposed F-18 offer as it stands, which includes . . . technology transfers, to the tune of $1.5 billion, to be exact.

As Lula joked, “Soon I will be getting these fighter jets for free.” (Outside of some political fallout, that is.)

The real story here is that Brazil, which has traditionally emphasized its “soft power,” is beginning to stock up on some “hard power” hardware. And like India and China, that makes for an attractive enough market to justify technology transfers. It’s also a pretty good relationship to cultivate, given Brazil’s leadership role and demonstrated commitment to peaceful, multilateral resolutions of regional tensions.

I have my doubts whether Boeing stands a real chance, though. France seems like a better fit, politically, and the two countries already have some substantial deals in the books.

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