RIO DE JANEIRO — The arrival of a giant US aircraft carrier here Friday with F/A-18 jet fighters aboard is a step in Washington's offensive to win a multi-billion-dollar contract to supply Brazil's air force with modern jet fighters.
US Rear Admiral Ted Branch told reporters that the visit of the USS Carl Vinson is aimed at improving ties with the Brazilian navy following mercy operations in quake-stricken Haiti, and work with Brazilian personnel from the UN peacekeeping force in that country.
However, the presence of the nuclear powered craft and the Super Hornet fighters on its deck, along with Boeing representatives on land, are a clear sign of a US push to convince Brazil to buy the US-made planes.
Brazil's air force is seeking to buy 36 new jet fighters, and will choose between three finalists: France's Rafale, a fighter made by Dassault; the Gripen NG jet from Sweden's Saab; and the F/A-18 Super Hornet from US group Boeing.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet is seen as only having an outside chance against the French and Swedish planes because of past US refusal to allow Brazil to export aircraft using US technology.
Branch refused to compare the three fighters, but he did tell reporters that the F/A-18 was a "multi-role, combat proven, mainline combat fighter" that was a "very capable platform."
At port and standing a mere 500 meters (yards) from the gigantic Carl Vinson was Boeing representative Michael Coggins, who told reporters that next week's visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will show that "a partnership with the US makes a lot of sense for Brazil."
Coggins praised the Super Hornet as being "far better than its competitors" and "the best jet in competition," and would allow Brazil access to Boeing's supply chain.
Coggins also said that the price was a good deal -- at 1.1 billion dollars less than the competition he said it was "the best price, long term."
The Boeing representative also ripped what he said was the "horrible" maintenance records of previous French aircraft sold to Brazil.
Brazilian Air Force General Juniti Saito said Tuesday that Brazil will likely designate the winner by the end of March, but did not set a date.
Saito stressed it would be a "political and strategic decision" made by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, following the air force's technical evaluation of the three bids.
Analysts believe France's Rafale is the leading contender after Lula and French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in September that negotiations were underway for Brazil to buy 36 of them.
Lula said his preference for the French jet derived from France's offer to give Brazil all the technology involved in the Rafale's construction -- a key point for Brazil, which wants the know-how to one day make its own modern fighters.
But the air force, through leaks in the Brazilian media, has indicated it prefers Sweden's much cheaper Gripen NG jet.
Early this month, the Brazilian government denied it had made a final decision to buy the Rafales.
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