RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil's government said Wednesday that Sweden's Saab won a long-delayed fighter jet contract initially worth $4.5 billion that will supply at least 36 planes to Latin America's biggest nation.
The decision to buy the Saab jet over Boeing's F-18 Super Hornet or France's Dassault Rafale came as a surprise to many. Some analysts said Boeing's bid was hurt by reports that the U.S. conducted extensive spying in Brazil, including a direct targeting of President Dilma Rousseff's own communications.
Brazil wants the jets to ramp up its defense capabilities to patrol a porous land border that's more than 9,300 miles (15,000 kilometers) long, much of it covered by jungle, over which arms and drugs easily flow. Brazil also seeks better protection for offshore oil fields it has discovered in recent years.
Defense Minister Celso Amorim said the choice after some 15 years of debate was made following "careful study and consideration, taking into account performance, transfer of technology and cost, not just of acquisition but of maintenance."
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt went on Twitter to call the decision "a tribute to Swedish technology and competitiveness."
Many had expected the choice to be between the Boeing and French planes. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva had favored the Dassault Rafale, while Rousseff was said to favor the F-18.
Revelations six months ago that the U.S. National Security Agency's mammoth espionage program included widespread spying on Brazil was likely a factor in Saab being chosen, some analysts said. Brazilian anger over the spying led Rousseff to cancel a planned state visit to Washington in October.
"Dilma had been favoring the Boeing plane and a lot of people thought she would announce her decision during her state visit to Washington," said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia. "Boeing was very close, but then the NSA booted them out of the air."
Carl Meacham, director of the Americas program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the NSA stories made it politically impossible for Rousseff to go with Boeing and the decision will be another blow to U.S-Brazilian relations that already "are at a significant low."