France and Brazil: The Rafale in Play


2013-12-13 by Kenneth Maxwell

President Francois Hollande has just completed a two day State Visit to Brazil.

He was returning from South Africa where he had attended the ceremonies in Pretoria for Nelson Mandela. He stopped over in the Central African Republic on the way to Brazil where he has committed French troops.

He will return to France from Brazil via Cayenne (French Guyana) where there have been cross border problems with illegal miners and fishing.

In Brazil President Hollande met President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia. She was also just back from South Africa. In Sao Paulo had a “private meeting” with former President Lula in the house of the French Ambassador.

Lula, while he was president of Brazil, was the great supporter of the French Rafale fighter jet, in the competition for the purchase of new fighter jets by Brazil. With the imminent “retirement “of Brazil’s current fleet of Mirage fighter jets Brazil has for some years been weighing a major order to renovate the Brazilian Air Force: Brazil is considering the acquisition of 36 new fighter jets at a cost of some US$ 5 billion.

The French, the US, and Sweden, are the major contenders.

Eliane Castanhede pointed out in her well-informed opinion column in the Folha de Sao Paulo on Thursday (12 December) that the chances of the Rafale were considered to be minimal. The French Rafale fighter is it is claimed more expensive and its maintenance is more costly than the competitors. The Rafale was in the last place in the Brazilian Air Forces assessment, Castanhede reports. This evaluation she says was supported by the Brazilian Air Force command.

She says that after Lula signed a billion dollar submarine contact with France President Sarkozy did not support Lula’s initiative (with Turkey) over Iran. President Hollande did not support the Brazilian candidate (who eventually won the post) to head the WTO. And although the Brazilian presidency supported the Rafale under president Lula, after President Dilma Rousseff took office, presidential support swung behind the Boeing F-18 proposal.

French President Francois Hollande (L) and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff laugh during a ceremony at Planalto Palace in Brasilia on December 12, 2013 (AFP, Evaristo Sa)
French President Francois Hollande (L) and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff laugh during a ceremony at Planalto Palace in Brasilia on December 12, 2013 (AFP, Evaristo Sa)

But this option has run into trouble as a result of the NSA’s spying allegations (as revealed by Edward Snowden in Russia and by Brazil based Glen Greenwald), which claimed that President Rousseff’s emails and cell phone communications had been monitored. President Rousseff cancelled her state visit to the US in October as a result of these revelations.

The Brazilian Air Force has performed “aerobatics” according to Castenhede. First it recommended the Gripen NG of the Swedish Saab company. Then it supported the Rafale. Then it praised the merits of the US F-18.

Now it is back to the Gripen.

President Rousseff is to meet with the military on 18 December, which will be the last chance that a decision will be made in 2013.    

President Hollande was accompanied to Brazil by Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister, and Eric Trappier, the president of Dassault, maker of the Rafale.

France is the 5th largest investor in Brazil where there are 500-600 French enterprises. President Hollande intends to strengthen the strategic alliance between France and Brazil. While in Brazil President Hollande singed deals for the Franco-Italian group Thales Alenia Space (TAS) which won the competition to build a space satellite for civilian and military purposes, as well as deal between AREVA and Eletrobras for the extension of nuclear reactor 3 at Angra, and a deal for TOTAL as part of a consortium to explore Libra an offshore petroleum reserve.

Brazil has the largest armed forces in South America, with 327,710 active service troops and officers. It ranks 11th in the world in military expenditures which according to the 2013 SIPRI statistics, stands at US$ 33.1 Billion. France spends US$58.9 Billion and is ranked 6 in the world (Russia spends US$90.7 and is 3rd). Brazil far outranks its South American neighbors. Colombia for example is ranked 18 in the world in military expenditures, but Venezuela is ranked 4,3 and Argentina is ranked 45 in the world.

The French has lobbied hard for the Rafale deal. Benoit Dussaugey, the Executive Vice President of Dassault-Aviation, and president of the Rafale consortium, spent 10 days in Brazil prior to President Hollande’s visit, when he engaged in a series of intense negotiations and meetings.

On the 9 December he gave a long interview (together with the representative of Dessault-Aviation in Brazil, Jean-Marc Merialdo), reported on the Brazilian defence website “Defesanet.” by the editor in chief of Defesanet, Nelson During, the following day.

Benoit Duddaugey made the following points:

He pointed out that Eric Trappier had accompanied President Hollande and said that the reactivation of the strategic relationship would involve a discussion of the Rafale fighter. As a basis for the French offer he pointed out the proven operational capabilities proved by combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya, and Mali. A Rafale had flown from the base of Saint-Dizier in France to Mali, a distance he pointed out comparable to that between Porto Alegre and Porto Velho in Brazil.

In the case of Brazil he said that the first aircraft could be sent with the same equipment as used by the French air force which would speed up their deployment.  Later these aircraft could be converted to Brazilian specifications.

The time of delivery originally proposed for three years could be reduced to one year.

DefesaNet noted that negotiations between the Rafale consortium and the Brazilian Air Force would still require a year, and that the installation of the production line in Brazil would take place after the seventh aircraft, and that the incorporation of local components would gradually increase up to the 36th fighter.

Asked if the French Air Force would permit the ceding of the use of Rafales under a temporary regime, Benoit Dussaugey said that he could not speak for the aircraft, which were the property of the French government, but as a French taxpayer he felt a small ownership of the Rafale, and thought this “would not be a problem.”

Four years after the original offer in October 2009, Dussaugney was asked is it was still valid. In these four years “we have advanced a great deal with the Rafale program” he responded “with the incorporation of new capabilities and he mentioned the integration of BVR Meteor missile. These new capabilities could be offered to Brazil.

The costs of development, including the software, were already paid for by the French government.

These expenses would be minimal for the Brazilian government.”

He said that he had discussed these issues with their Brazilian partner EMBRAER. He said that if they won the contract they “would need to discuss again many issues because of changes which had taken place at EMBRAER as well as with the evolution of the project.”

He was asked about the status of the India deal with the Rafale.

He said that the government of India had asked that the contract should be signed before April 2014 that is before the elections there. India wised to have a 100% transfer of technology and they had 1000 contracts with different enterprises underway. Dassault-Aviation had more than a 100 full time employees based in India in order to complete these negotiations.

It was a complex operation to achieve complete technological transfer by finding Indian suppliers that met the specifications, costs and timetables involved.

Asked if this was a risk he replied that in the past India had acquired the license to produce the Jaguar aircraft. The intention was to buy 18 aircraft directly and to produce 40 locally.  What happened was that more than 40 were produced totally autonomously and that the production line in France was closed and they were totally produced in India.

The Rafale will be a major player in the future of Indian airpower assuming agreement is reached. Credit Image: Dassault
The Rafale will be a major player in the future of Indian airpower assuming agreement is reached. Credit Image: Dassault

Asked why the Rafale had not had the sales success of the Mirage III in 2000.

He responded that “we are working with this. The sales of combat aircraft in the world have diminished greatly. But we have great hopes and if the contract with India is confirmed we will maintain the proportion of aircraft exported. The production line of Rafale, he said, will remain open for many years.”

He said a agreement would be signed during President Hollande’s visit for the training of aeronautical engineers between SENAI and the French Ministry of Education. This was in response to a request from EMBRAER.

The school would be developed in Sao Jose dos Campos in Sao Paulo  where EMBRAER is based, and that French enterprises, including participants in the Rafale consortium, would provide material and technicians for this school.

Asked if he was upset by the developments in 2009 (when the Brazilian decision was delayed). He replied that it “was the obligation of a industrialist to go beyond deceptions. They were updating their proposal and speaking with the potential client.”

India deal, if it comes to completion, is much bigger than the deal Brazil is considering. The Indians are interested in a 126 aircraft. Brazil is interested in 36 aircraft.

The political climate in Brazil is also complicated. 

It is not clear if the upcoming presidential elections which will take place next year will encourage Dilma Rousseff, who is currently leading in the opinion polls, will be inclined to to make a major decision on military expenditure on such a scale at his stage.

The Brazilian navy is also said to be unhappy with some aspects of the submarine deal with France.

But the French are pushing their case for the Rafale aggressively.

They point out that they will agree to a total transfer of technology. (Boeing will apparently exclude the transfer of the basic cade of the aircraft, which would permit the Brazilians to buy armaments from other suppliers, as well as to develop new software for military use).

The French are committed to the eventual manufacture of Rafale in Sao Jose do Campo in Sao Paulo.

They are also hinting that they could help modernize and update Brazil’s Mirage fleet in the interim. President Hollande has joined Brazil in criticism of NSA’s spying. He has reiterated French support for Brazil’s desire to become permanent members of the UN Security Council.

And France will join Brazil in sponsoring an April a international conference in Rio de Janeiro on cyber-security.