Leaders from Brazil’s Air Force announced Wednesday they planned to buy 36 Swedish-made Gripen fighters instead of the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet.
Leading up to this week’s announcement, many expected Boeing to win the $4.5 billion contract, following a decade-long competition. Along with Boeing, the Gripen, made by Saab, also beat out the French fighter Rafale, which is built by Dassault. French President François Hollande even lobbied for the Rafale in a trip to Brazil last week.
However, the Brazil Air Force surprised many and chose the Gripen because of costs and performance, Defense Minister Celso Amorim said.
The air forces of Sweden, South Africa, the Czech Republic, Thailand and Hungary also fly the Gripen. The multi-role fighter can carry 6.5 tons of armament and equipment. It is also armed with a 27 mm Mauser BK-27 cannon.
Brazil’s choice of the Gripen over the Super Hornet is a major blow to Boeing. The U.S. aviation giant was counting on the Brazil order to extend production of the Super Hornet in St. Louis as the assembly line is scheduled to close in the next two years.
Members of the U.S. Congress have pushed for the Navy to buy more Super Hornets as a hedge against failings within the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. However, the Navy is scheduled to buy its last Super Hornet in 2016.
In June, it appeared Boeing was working to clinch the fighter award at the Paris Air Show when it announced a partnership with Brazilian defense company Embraer on the KC-390, a medium sized airlifter that Embraer has developed. Boeing officials just smiled when asked if the announcement of the partnership with a Brazilian company had anything to do with the fighter competition.
Questions have arisen if the reports that the National Security Agency was spying on the Brazilian government and private companies had any role in Brazil’s decision. Some analysts have said Boeing’s bid lost momentum around that time. Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia told the St. Louis Dispatch that he felt the leads provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden played a role.