More revelations about the murky world of combat aircraft sales from WikiLeak documents, published by French daily Le Monde on its Internet site. Le Monde is one of five newspapers to have been given advance access to a store of some 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables leaked by website WikiLeaks. The comments in italics are my own to make it clear that they are not part of the leaked documents.
As you know France is hoping to sell 36 Rafale combat aircraft made by Dassault Aviation to Brazil for around $4.4 billion. Despite statements made by both the French and Brazilian presidents nearly a year ago that the Rafale had won the competition, nothing has been said officially and the other two contestants, Saab's Gripen and Boeing's FA-18 Super Hornet are still in the running. France is desperately hoping for a decision before President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva leaves office on January 1, 2011 to be replaced by Dilma Roussef.
The U.S. embassy in Paris has been keeping an interested eye on the close relationship between France and Brazil. It noted in a diplomatic cable in November 2009 that if the Rafale were chosen, then Dassault may have to ask the United States for export control licenses for the parts of the aircraft made using U.S. technology. A hint, perhaps, or even an implied threat, that these might be hard to come by?
The cable adds that Sarkozy told the Brazilians that France is the perfect partner for those countries which do not want to depend on U.S. technology -- but then we all knew that already -- and stresses that right from the start of negotiations, the French have guaranteed the Brazilians would have access to the Rafale's software codes, which the other two manufacturers are not so hot about releasing.
The cable adds that when Lula complained about the “absurd” cost of the aircraft, $80 million a piece, the French president, according to foreign ministry sources, sent Lula a personal letter in which he stressed that France was prepared to go-ahead with a no-restrictions transfer of technological information.
The diplomatic document then cites military sources in Brasilia which say that Brazil not only wants to buy the Rafale but also wants to build it domestically so that it could sell it across Latin America by 2030.
Even if the sale of the Rafales is still hanging in the air, France did sign a wide-ranging $12 billion defense agreement approved by the Brazilian senate on September 3, 2009 which included the sale of four conventionally-powered submarines, and a nuclear-powered one.
The November 2009 diplomatic cable adds that the technological transfers agreed to by France in the naval sector weighed heavily in establishing this defense agreement as Brazil not only wants to equip its armed forces but also develop an industrial base to enable it to move forward on its own. So a similar requirement in the aviation sector is not really at all surprising.