BRASILIA Jan 5 The Brazilian Air Force would
prefer to buy its next-generation fighter jets from Sweden,
putting it at odds with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's
preference for French planes, media reported on Tuesday.
The deal, which could initially be worth more than $4
billion, has sparked fierce competition among aircraft
An Air Force report presented to Defense Minister Nelson
Jobim said Sweden's Saab (SAABb.ST) had presented the best
overall project among the three finalists, Folha de Sao Paulo
newspaper reported on Tuesday.
The U.S.-made Boeing (BA.N) F18 was runner-up in the
report, and France's Dassault Aviation (AVMD.PA) placed last
with its Rafale jet.
The Brazilian government said last year that it was in the
final stages of talks to acquire the Rafale.
Accused by critics of cutting short the bidding process,
the government insisted no final decision had been made. Lula
said he would have the final word and that his decision would
be political and strategic.
Brazil has signed a strategic defense agreement with France
worth billions of dollars, including the local assembly of
helicopters and conventional and nuclear-powered submarines.
Brazil is seeking a generous technology transfer offer and
local assembly as part of a contract to buy 36 jet fighters.
The deal could eventually rise to more than 100 aircraft.
Saab's Gripen NG jet had a lower purchase and maintenance
cost and would allow for more technology to be transferred to
Brazil, Folha cited the Air Force report as saying.
Unlike the Rafale, which is a finished product, the Gripen
NG would be developed with Brazilian participation, the Air
Force said according to Folha.
The Veja news magazine reported this week that Jobim told
friends there might not be a decision on the deal before he
steps down in April to run for public office in October general
For more than a decade, Brazil has been studying how to
replace its aging fleet of fighter jets.
The Air Force declined to comment, and the defense ministry
was not immediately available to comment.
(Reporting by Raymond Colitt; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)