Rafale Jets for Brazil? France’s Macron Tries to Lure Brazil Away From Gripen Fighters

Snubbed in 2013, France's Macron makes a new Rafale sales push in Brazil. Ten years after Brazil rejected Rafale fighters, Macron launches a new drive to sell the jets, banking on Brazil's rapid rearmament ambitions. Will Brazil Be Away From Gripen Jets?

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

On March 27, in front of the French community in Sao Paulo, French President Emmanuel Macron lauded the renewed alliance with Brazil and voiced confidence that Brazilians will eventually purchase Rafale fighters from France.

“And who knows, revive discussions about the Rafale because I believe that nothing is ever lost,” said Macron.

France has long intended to sell Rafale jets to Brazil before securing its first export customers in Egypt, Qatar, and India. 

During a trip to Brasilia in 2008, President Sarkozy announced that Brazil would begin negotiations with Dassault Aviation to purchase 36 Rafale fighter bombers in exchange for France participating in Embraer’s C-390 transport aircraft program, with a potential order of ten units for 500 million euros. But none came to fruition.

Wikileaks cables from the United States indicate that Brazil intended to acquire the Rafale, produce it domestically, and sell it across Latin America by 2030. President Nicolas Sarkozy sought to reassure his Brazilian counterpart about the price of the aircraft — $80 million each — by telling him that France would transfer the codes at the heart of Rafale technology to Brazil. In January 2010, a Brazilian cabinet member said that then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wanted Brazil to choose the Rafale, but at a lower price than France was offered.

Brazil announced in December 2013 that it had chosen a multibillion-dollar contract with Saab of Sweden for the Gripen NG, an alternative fighter aircraft model, over the Rafale by Dassault of France and the F/A-18 by Boeing of the United States.

The French government subsequently downplayed its inability to persuade Brazil to purchase Rafale fighter aircraft, maintaining that France will put its focus on selling Rafales to India or the Gulf states.

The action dealt an additional setback to the Rafale program, which failed to secure a single foreign sale despite nearly three decades of development and tens of billions of euros spent.

In October 2014, Brazil signed a contract for Gripen fighter jets, formally known as the F-39 Gripen E/F. 

A Second Chance

On August 11, 2023, the Brazilian government launched the “Programa de Aceleração do Crescimento” (PAC) to accelerate growth. With a budget of 10 billion euros, this initiative anticipates considerable investments in Brazil’s armed forces. Its goals include arming the armed forces with cutting-edge technology, improving national defense capabilities, and defending the country’s borders. The PAC’s projects include the development of submarines and frigates, acquiring armored vehicles, light helicopters, nine C-390 Millennium transport planes, and ordering an extra 34 F-39 Gripen E/F fighter aircraft. There are also plans to convert two Airbus A330s into aerial refueling tankers (MRTT).

On August 25, 2023, Brazil announced its intention to order an additional 34 JAS-39 Gripen E/F fighter aircraft. Brazil hopes to field 80 aircraft by 2035.

This is where Macron sees the opportunity to sell Rafales.

As a reminder, the collaboration between Airbus Helicopters (then Eurocopter) and Helibras to produce 50 Super Cougar maneuver helicopters in Brazil has been completed. The construction of four Scorpène-class submarines by the Itaguai shipyard through a joint venture formed by Naval Group and the Brazilian group Odebrecht is nearing completion, with the last unit, the Angostura, scheduled to be launched in 2025.

Nonetheless, Franco-Brazilian cooperation in this sphere is larger; as part of the Prosub program, Brazil intends to acquire a nuclear attack submarine [SSN] dubbed “Alvaro Alberto.” However, this project has already experienced substantial delays and does not include technology transfers for nuclear propulsion systems. The Naval Group’s participation was confined to assisting with designing this SSN for the Marinha do Brasil (Brazilian Navy).

Despite recent strained relations with Brasilia, President Macron promised France’s aid in this regard during a ceremony on March 27 to mark the launch of the Toneloro, Brazil’s third Scorpène-class submarine.

Macron expressed his desire that “we face nuclear propulsion while being perfectly respectful of all the most rigorous non-proliferation commitments.” He added: “This framework exists, it is possible. You want it. France will stand by your side.”

He urged collaboration between France and Brazil with “an even greater ambition, that of a stronger Brazil and a stronger France, in the service of peace and a shared vision of the world.”

Did President Macron plan on linking the issue of nuclear propulsion for Brasilia’s fifth submarine with a Rafale order?

Rafale has its own benefits, even if the sale of nuclear propulsion is not connected to the aircraft.

In contrast to the 2010 proposal, the Rafale aircraft has succeeded in the international market. France is not in a pressing situation to transfer the codes comprising its technology’s core to Brazil. Despite SAAB’s provision of extensive technology transfers, Brazil will just be capable of manufacturing and maintaining the fighter. Given the global transition towards fifth-generation fighters, the potential benefits of SAAB’s technology transfer are debatable. The future trajectory of Gripen upgrades by SAAB remains uncertain; however, Rafale has already formulated a strategy to meet Rafale F5 requirements. Future export sales of SAAB Gripen are expected to be minuscule. 


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