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US lands huge Spanish jet contract

The Spanish government announced late last week the largest contract in Spanish military history.

The Spanish Defense Commission, composed of experts from the armed forces, the administration, and private aircraft and electronics industries, authorized the $3 billion purchase of 84 McDonnell-Douglas F-18-A fighter bombers, worth $ 35.7 million each.

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General Dynamics' F-16 was the closest runner-up for the contract, and losing the Spanish contract came as an unexpected blow in Belgium, where almost 2,500 jobs depend on new F-16 contracts abroad. General Dynamics' F-16 was cheaper: 96 combat planes for the same price, but offsets and coproduction compensations totaled $1.44 billion while McDonnell-Douglas offered $1.8 billion in offsets.

Spain decided that the McDonnell-Douglas F-18-A, designed for the US Navy and also bought by Canada and Australia, was technically better-suited to the Spanish Air Force, which had to replace its almost 20-year-old Phantoms and F-5s by 1985.

Competition for the Spanish contract was so intense that General Dynamics even resorted to exotic advertising campaigns in the Spanish press back in the summer of 1980. Puzzled Spaniards learned all about the advantages of taking home a light F-16 $30 million fighter bomber, which was pictured flying proudly over national monuments with the Spanish flag painted boldly, but prematurely, on its wings.

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