CORRECTED-Brazil may wait over four years for new fighters, says Saab

(Corrects fourth paragraph to reflect officials expect deliveries four years, not two years, after signing contract)

SAO PAULO, Dec 20 (Reuters) - Brazil is not likely to receive the first of its new fighter jets from Saab AB for more than four years, the head of the Swedish company’s aerospace unit told Reuters on Friday, underscoring the need for stopgap aircraft in coming years.

Brazil’s Gripen NG should arrive after Sweden takes the first deliveries of the next-generation aircraft in early 2018, said Lennart Sindahl in a telephone interview.

“Everyone expects the national air force to take the first deliveries, before we start exporting,” he said.

That will leave the Brazilian air force waiting to replenish an old, shrinking fleet. Military officials said on Wednesday they expected to sign a $4.5 billion final contract for the 36 new jets within a year, with the first deliveries arriving four years after that.

While Brazil waits, the country is negotiating with Sweden to lease existing Gripen C/D, Sindahl said, in order to offset the loss of a dozen Mirage fighters at the end of this year.

The Swedish air force is flying 98 Gripens, according to Saab’s website, and has ordered the upgrade of 60 Gripen C to the next-generation model, with deliveries beginning in 2018.

The Swiss armed forces have also ordered 22 of the newest Gripens, pending a national referendum next year. (Reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)