SAO PAULO/BRASILIA, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Brazil's aging fleet of fighter jets may create more demand for Saab Gripen aircraft in the next two decades, with allies such as Argentina possibly ordering dozens of the planes, Brazilian defense officials said on Wednesday.
Saab AB signed a final $5.4 billion order last month for 36 NG Gripen jets to be delivered from 2019 to 2024, edging out France's Dassault Aviation SA and Chicago-based Boeing Co for the coveted fighter contract.
Brazilian officials confirmed that the deal opens the door for a string of additional orders to be filled at Brazilian facilities, which Saab is setting up with local planemaker Embraer SA and other domestic contractors.
Brazil's Air Force is already working on plans to retire its decades-old fleet of F-5 and AMX fighter jets, which Embraer is refurbishing to keep active through 2030. To replace and standardize those planes will require an estimated 108 aircraft, Air Force officials said in a Wednesday statement.
The comments followed a report in the Wall Street Journal that Brazil's air force plans to make the Gripen its sole combat jet and may eventually buy over 100 of the aircraft.
"We are interested in building more Gripens - for export or even to expand the fleet of the Brazilian Air Force. But as of today there is only one concrete contract signed for 36 planes," said Luiz Rabelo, a spokesman for Defense Minister Celso Amorim.
Last month, Argentine Defense Minister Agustin Rossi said in a visit to Brazil that his country would begin negotiations to acquire 24 Gripens produced in Brazil, the first regional ally to express formal interest in the program. (Reporting by Brad Haynes and Anthony Boadle; editing by Andrew Hay)