January 9, 2014 12:00 am JST

Fighter jet battles flare up in emerging nations

YASUO TAKEUCHI, Nikkei staff writer

PARIS -- Emerging countries in need of modernizing their weaponry are rushing to buy state-of-the-art fighter jets, sparking a fierce marketing battle among the world's major defense contractors with government leaders even serving as pitchmen.

     French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian hinted on a TV show on Dec. 19 that India and Persian Gulf nations will pick French fighters soon. Later that day, U.K. firm BAE Systems announced that the Eurofighter Typhoon combat jet is no longer being considered for adoption as the next-generation fighter by the United Arab Emirates. France's Rafale jet, made by Dassault, and America's Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet remain in the running.

     The UAE plans to buy 60 new fighters to replace its aging fleet, a deal estimated to be worth as much as $10 billion. Last November, Le Drian and British Prime Minister David Cameron visited the Middle Eastern country apparently to promote commercial diplomacy.

     Meanwhile, Brazil said on Dec. 18 that it will grant Sweden's Saab exclusive negotiating rights as it works to select its next-generation fighter. The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is now the front-runner in this race. Brazil plans to replace 36 fighters by 2023 at a total cost of $4.5 billion.

     French President Francois Hollande has just visited Brazil to pitch the Dassault Rafale fighter. In response to Brazil's decision, Dassault pointed out that the Gripen uses many parts from other countries, especially the U.S.

     In fact, the F/A-18 had been seen as the leading candidate in that race. Brazil may have changed its mind at the last minute because of leaked reports that the U.S. National Security Agency had been spying on President Dilma Rousseff.

     Emerging nations whose economies are relatively well off are generally on a better financial footing than industrialized countries, and they are rushing to upgrade their weapons. Although global military expenditures were roughly unchanged from the previous year at about $1.74 trillion in 2012, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, developed nations in North America and Europe have been cutting their defense budgets while emerging countries in Asia and the Middle East have been ramping up military spending.