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Markets seen shrinking for big-ticket jet fighters
by Staff Writers
Rio De Janeiro (UPI) Jan 6, 2013

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only

High-definition warplanes face a shrinking market as procurement agencies draw lessons from Brazil's decision to choose outsider Gripen NG over more complex but costlier contenders from Boeing, Dassault Aviation and other manufacturers, analysts said.

Brazil announced in December it was beginning talks with Saab, the Swedish manufacturer of Gripen NG, for extensive technology transfer as part of its planned purchase of 36 Gripen NG fighters.

At the heart of the expected deal is Brazil's ambition to become a regional provider of military hardware, learning and borrowing from suppliers such as Saab.

Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer has already demonstrated it can compete on cost and capability with major players in a global expanding market for light attack aircraft, where its EMB314 Super Tucano has taken on U.S. and European rivals.

Saab calls its Gripen NG the "world-leading and most affordable fighter." Analysts see Saab's assertion as an open challenge to rivals.

Brazil's selection of the Gripen fighter "underscored just how little remaining market space remains for the highly capable, but highly priced, dual-engine fighters from Boeing, Eurofighter and Dassault," Defense News said.

Countries looking to replace aging fighter fleets or upgrade their capabilities but wanting to stay within the circle of Western suppliers -- not China or Russia -- can choose between seven suppliers. These include Saab's Gripen, Eurofighter's Typhoon, Dassault's Rafale, Boeing's F-15 Strike Eagle and F/A-18 Super Hornet, and Lockheed Martin's F-16 Falcon -- and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The F-15 and F-16 enjoy long-term customer base but some among those are looking to next-generation replacement, Defense News points out.

"The Gripen, a single-engine platform, is lighter and more affordable than the competition. The single-engine F-35 is highly advanced but expensive and, for some potential customers, not yet an option from the U.S. government."

That leaves the trio of Typhoon, Rafale and Super Hornet, all modern dual-engine, highly capable fighters, to battle over a limited market. Brazil's late-December selection of the Gripen as its fighter replacement was just the latest blow to those competitors, Defense News said.

It cited analysts' view that the number of countries that can afford the more expensive jets remains small.

"With defense budgets tightening, Brazil's selection of Gripen has re-emphasized there are very few nations out there who really need large, expensive, two-engine jets to meet their requirements," said Keith Hayward, the head of research at Britain's Royal Aeronautical Society, Defense News reported.

Fighter manufacturers who lost out to Gripen NG in Brazil now have to contend with a shrinking market and less than spectacular orders from a handful of countries likely to include Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Defense News said.

Reports about Western fighter aircraft makers' troubles still skip mention of Russian advances in the market.

RIA Novosti last year cited Russia as "the world's leading exporter of new multirole fighter jets."

Data from the Russian Center for the Analysis of the Global Arms Trade said that when calculated in volume terms, Russia was the market-leader for the supply of multirole fighter jets for 2009-2012, when it supplied 224 new jets valued at about $9 billion.


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