Brazil's defense minister has reignited speculation about a multi-billion-dollar fighter jet deal by saying his country is in "urgent" need of new combat aircraft despite this year's budget cuts.
The French Dassault's Rafale fighter, the US Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Swedish Saab's Gripen NG have long been in stiff competition for the estimated $4-7 billion contract, as Brazil has postponed a final decision.
Brazil earlier this year postponed the expected purchase to 2012, citing the need for budget cuts in 2011 due to the deteriorating world economy.
But Defense Minister Celso Amorim said Thursday that there was little time to waste, as Brazil's current fleet is aging rapidly.
"By the end of 2013, none of the 12 Mirage (aircraft) at the Anapolis air base will be in full flying condition. This is something that is really urgent, very important," Amorim said, according to a state-run news agency.
"The need to defend the Amazon, the borders -- We need to have adequate combat aircraft," he said.
He reiterated Brazil's position that the "transfer of technology" is the key sticking point, as the emerging economic giant is keen to develop its own fighter aircraft manufacturing capability.
Brazil has repeatedly delayed making a decision on the tender for 36 new fighter jets.
Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had promised to declare a winner before leaving office at the end of 2010, but instead handed the tender over to his successor, Dilma Rousseff, who has put off making a choice and shown no preference for any of the jets.
The winning jet will form the spearhead of Brazil's air force for the next three decades and replace the vintage jets now patrolling the vast Amazon forest and protecting offshore oil finds.
© 2011 AFP
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