The Rafale and A400M Hit a Rough Patch

Not a good week for European military aircraft.

According to a Jean-Dominique Merchet scoop, Brazil’s air force has completed its review of the three fighter jets competing for a 36-plane, $2.5 billion tender. The report, which has not yet been made public, allegedly ranks the French-built Rafale third, behind the Swedish Gripen and the American F-18. That, after Brazilian President Inacio Lula da Silva all but sealed the deal for the Rafales during French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Brasilia last September. According to Merchet, the tug-of-war between the political and military decision-makers has turned nasty, with the military chiefs going “guerilla.” Seems like Lula’s got some chain of command issues. As for the French, they have yet to actually sell the Rafale abroad, making it very costly, in both money and prestige.

Meanwhile, the negotiations through the press between Airbus/EADS and the EU purchasers of the A400M over who will bite the bullet on the project’s enormous cost overruns also jumped up a notch in volume. An Airbus spokesman declared that cancellation of the plane has become a “realistic scenario,” while Germany remained intransigent on its demand that the contract be applied to the letter. The article claims there is no alternative to the A400M. But there are some next-best solutions — they’re just not joint EU projects. France is already considering a purchase of C130Js as an interim measure, and the EU and NATO have already leased Russian models from Eastern European contractors on a contingency basis. In other words, if the A400M goes under, it, too, will take a whole lot of EU prestige, and money, with it.