What is a fighter plane? What is the role of aircraft in modern warfare? And the missiles? Who threatens our sovereignty? What exactly does “strategic partnership” mean?
The purchase of the first 36 aircraft for the modernization program of the Brazilian Air Force is no longer a novel, soap opera or detective tale. Now is closer to the narrative style of a comic book – simplified, syncopated and falsely electrifying.
In 2001, during Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s second term, the program was called FX and had a budget a little under 4 billion reais (US$ 2.3 billion). In November 2002, the president decided to leave the decision to his successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who preferred to prioritize the fight against hunger.
With the hunger problem apparently solved, six years later, in May 2008, the program is accelerated, renamed FX-2 at a cost of 10 billion reais (US$ 5.8 billion). The options of equipment were continuously reduced until only three choices were left.
The government is clearly divided: the technical area (FAB – Brazilian Air Force) prefers the Swedish model (the Gripen), cheaper to build and operate. The political area, led by the president himself, prefers the French (the Rafale) alternative, more expensive and less beneficial to the domestic industry. Both groups agree on a fundamental question: you have to decide immediately.
Obvious question: why the hurry? Do the armed forces consider imminent the outbreak of a war? Does the government fear that the matter be brought to the electoral campaign? In this case, what is the drawback? Wouldn’t it be more democratic and therefore more patriotic to let Lula’s successor take the decision?
Meanwhile, we should pay attention to other issues. The jets erroneously called by the press as “fighters” are actually fighter-bombers, multi-functional devices, possibly intended to intercept attacks from enemy aircraft and primarily attack cross-border targets.
Today, a country’s air defense depends primarily on a system of radars and missiles. Dogfight, air combat, is a thing of the past. What is the power that threatens us and must be attacked preemptively – Venezuela with its flaming Russian-made Sukhoi, which cannot accommodate the fat Hugo Chávez?
The latest Latin America’s achievement in aviation was starred by a turboprop, the Supertucano, manufactured by our own Embraer for the Colombian armed forces. Across the world, in Afghanistan, the newest starlet players are unmanned devices, guided by remote control, capable of flying at high altitude, evading radar, pinpointing any time in any weather heavily armed groups and destroying them. It costs a tiny fraction of a superjet.
Does it mean that we should cut corners and prepare FAB for the war of the future, the so-called clean war, fought through monitors, buttons and joysticks? This is a question that needs no answer, but should be raised. If not by the government at least by those who are producing this exciting comic strip.
Here too the technicians’ point of view (read FAB) is the most sensible, because in addition to opt for a less costly solution it enables the country to take the inevitable technological leaps.
We should also investigate the real meaning of the mysterious phrase “strategic partnership” to justify the option for the French Rafale. On the world stage what is the real difference between the U.S. and France? Is Sarkozy more progressive than Barack Obama? Is the French military-industrial complex less hungry than the American?
Is France institutionally more Republican than the U.S., is its foreign policy universalistic multipolar, does it support the entry of Turkey into the European Union? Is the old French Bonapartism closer to our political-cultural paradigms than the post-racial and post-ideological platform of the first black American president?
This comic strip will still stir much debate. It should be monitored. Unhurriedly and very carefully.
Alberto Dines, the author, is a journalist, founder and researcher at LABJOR – Laboratório de Estudos Avançados em Jornalismo (Laboratory for Advanced Studies in Journalism) at UNICAMP (University of Campinas) and editor of the Observatório da Imprensa. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Translated from the Portuguese by Arlindo Silva.