The new Mirage F-2000s that the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) just added to its arsenal are the same old Mirages that the French military flew in 2001 during the Afghanistan and Gulf wars.
The Brazilian brass, however, are happy all the same since the F-2000s will be replacing the obsolete Mirage IIIs, which have been retired at the end of last year after serving Brazil since the 1970s.
The Air Force had been promised 12 of the new fighter planes. They ended up getting only two, for now, but they are not complaining. They seem to understand that the country has other priorities and they trust President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva when he says that this is just the beginning of a new Air Force. Another 12 Mirages manufactured in the 1980s should arrive at the end of 2008.
During his visit to the Anápolis military air base, in the midwestern state of Goiás, on Monday, September 4, Lula let it be known that the government might go back to the "FX Project," created by Fernando Henrique Cardoso but abandoned at the beginning of this administration.
The current government argued that the 700 million reais (US$ 330 million) budgeted for the planes would be better used in the Zero Hunger program. The Mirage project is also more modest than the FX one. It’s costing about US$ 103 million. For now the FX Project has been suspended indefinitely.
The US$ 103 million being paid for the older Mirages include not only the fighter planes but also spare parts and pilot training. The armed forces of seven countries are using Mirages in their aerial defense.
The FAB hierarchy are hoping the FX project will be resumed as early as next year. For them the second-hand Mirages are just a stopgap solution to solve an immediate problem. The FXs in turn would give Brazil a new generation of war planes.
Lieutenant Colonel Marcos Pontes, the first Brazilian astronaut, was also present at the Mirage presentation ceremony, but he stayed far from Lula on the stand, and the president didn’t mention his name during his speech even though a laundry list of smaller characters were brought up by Lula.
Pontes, 43, seems to have fallen in disgrace for having gone into the reserve soon after returning from his space trip in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, for which the Brazilian government paid about US$ 20 million.
In his speech, the president stated that Brazil’s historical vocation has always been to extend a helping hand instead of threatening and added: "That’s what happened in East Timor and in Lebanon, as well as in Haiti. We stand up for peace as a sacred value, but we will always keep vigilant to defend our sovereignty and our immense territory that harbors so many riches."