Super Tucano, the US and the Global Fighter Market


by Francis Tusa

One has to assume that Boeing is shaking its corporate head in dismay, as its chances of a deal to sell the F/A-18E/F to Brazil took a nose dive. The key thing that has affected the aircraft’s chances has been the abrupt cancellation of the deal for the USAF to buy at least 20 Super Tucano light ground attack aircraft.

Even if a great deal of the work building the aircraft would have been carried out by Embraer’s US partner, Sierra Nevada Corp, there would still have been a goodly amount undertaken in Brazil, and it would have marked a major breakthrough for the Brazilian aerospace company into the US market. But as has been commented upon by the Brazilian government:

“The Brazilian government learnt with surprise of the suspension of the bid process to purchase A-29 Super Tucano aircraft by the United States Air Force, in particular due to its manner and timing. This development is not considered conducive to strengthening relations between the two countries on defence affairs.”

Now, even a $350-million contract (UPC of $17.5-million) can be seen as so small in US terms that no-one considered the wider policy implications of the cancellation in so far as exports are concerned. But if anyone had thought about this area, and still decided that cancellation was a good idea, then this is showing a further degree of blindness in the USA about what it takes to break into some export markets.

There was a major misunderstanding in the Indian MMRCA programme about the Indian desire for technology transfer and onshore assembly, and the Super Tucano decision would seem to show that Washington does not understand that in more and more countries, the desires for work and tech transfer are not tradable items.

For a complete look at Tusa’s assessment of the evolution of the global fighter market in the near to mid term see his analysis in this month’s Defense Analysis