SA to benefit from a Brazilian Gripen buy

Gripen International says the Brazilian Air Force has short-listed the Saab Gripen NG (New Generation) for its future fighter requirement.
The news comes as the heads of government of Brazil, SA and India prepare to meet in Delhi on Wednesday for the third summit of the India, Brazil and South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA). The second summit, in Pretoria a year ago, was followed by naval manoeuvres involving the Navies of all three partners off the Cape in May.  
Of the three, SA already operates the Gripen D advanced lightweight fighter aircraft. SA and Brazil are also collaborating developing the Denel A-Darter advanced air-to-air missile for their respective air forces under a R1 billion programme (Project Assegaai).       
SA was the first export client of the Swedish “Generation 4.5” fighter. It has since been acquired by the Czech Republic, Hungary and Thailand.   
Saab executive vice president Dan-Åke Enstedt in September pegged the Brazilian requirement at 36. Other countries he listed as interested in the Gripen included Bulgaria (16), Croatia (12), Denmark (48), India (126), Norway (48), Romania (48), Switzerland (30) and The Netherlands (85).     
“We are pleased to be included by the Brazilian Air Force in the ongoing selection process and are ready to submit at very attractive proposal”, adds Lennart Sindahl, another executive vice president at Saab.
Gripen International marketing director for Brazil Bengt Janér says Saab`s response also confirms “the willingness to include Brazilian industry, share know how, and transfer the most modern technology existing today.” The Gripen NG offer from Saab is supported by the Swedish Government.
“Our answer to the Request for Information (RFI) that we handed in to the Brazilian Air Force in August includes a fighter that perfectly fits their needs, as well as full support regarding spare parts, logistics and training”, he adds.
SA benefit?
Several SA companies, notably Denel Saab Aerostructures as well as Carl Zeiss Optronics are involved in the Gripen programme, and may benefit should any order Brazilian order for the Gripen materialise.
Denel Saab Aerostructures manufacture Gripen centre and rear fuselage sub-assemblies and stores pylons.
Carl Zeiss Optronics designed, developed and now produce and integrate the Gripen helmet tracking system.
SA in 1999 ordered 24 BAE Systems Mk120 Hawk and 28 Saab JAS39 C & D Gripen (later reduced to 26) fighters for $2.2 billion. As a result the two companies are obliged to make or facilitate investments or “offsets” worth $8.7 billion into the local economy.
The offsets obligations must be complete by 2012. Last month BAE Systems executive VP for SA John Williamson said the companies were “well ahead of schedule” with “new economic activity” running at $5.3 billion.
But it is by no means certain Brazil will choose the Gripen NG, which is still under development. Igor Gielow, defence correspondent at Folha, a leading Brazilian daily, says The Gripen NG is up against the US Boeing F/A18 E/F Super Hornet and the French Dassault Rafale.
“The bid is tailor-made for the French to win, since the Ministry of Defence has already chosen France as its ‘strategic partner`,” Gielow adds, further saying that Brazil has also chosen the French Scorpéne submarine in a related deal and have signed a bilateral agreement to develop a nuclear submarine – a long-standing Brazilian ambition.  
“Technology transfer is the main issue here,” he says. He predicts the F/A18 will be cut from the list because the US is reluctant to share technology and does not provide offsets. The Gripen may have a chance, he adds, as “it`s the cheapest option,” but as the engine is a licence-made US product, he fears it may fail to make the cut as well.
“But you have to put one thing in perspective, which is the current economic crisis. It`s almost a certainty that the military budget will be one of the first to receive a cut in case things get worse – and they will.”