Until earlier this year, Boeing had been considered the frontrunner for the purchase. But revelations of spying by the U.S. National Security Agency in Brazil, including the personal telephone calls and emails of President Dilma Rousseff herself, led Brazil to believe that it could not trust a U.S. company.
The revelations by Edward Snowden triggered an immediate exit from U.S. hosted service providers, then a rapid decline in the prospects for U.S. communications equipment vendors, and Boeing just lost a $4.5 billion dollar sale to Sweden’s Saab. Instead of the F/A-18 Hornet the JAS-39 Gripen will grace the skies of South America’s regional power.
There is a deeper issue here that isn’t explicitly mentioned. I have written once before about the troubled F-35 Lightning II, in The Marine Corps Liability, and I believe the odds are fairly good that the program will either badly underperform, or simply fail entirely.
Long term I think the technical faults of the F-35 platform might make it attractive for the U.S. to retool tested airframes like the F/A-18 and F-16 for duty as high performance drones. We have only completed a hundred F-35 and if Congress suddenly and drastically curtails production, a pool of aircraft that small will have a very high unit cost and parts availability problems over the long term.
If you’re marking the slow slide of Imperial America, this is an important milestone, with both immediate direct and long term indirect implications.