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German econ ministry questions purchase of U.S. military planes

BERLIN Nov 24 Germany's economic ministry has questioned a plan by the country's defence ministry to buy U.S. transport planes, proposing instead the purchase of a Brazilian aircraft that could trigger orders for German firms.

A state secretary in Germany's economic ministry, Brigitte Zypries, told lawmakers in a letter that she had made the suggestion to her counterpart at the defence ministry after a visit to an Embraer facility in Brazil.

Zypries said Embraer presented its own KC-390 transport aircraft as a "very convincing" alternative to the purchase of Lockheed Martin Corp C-130J transport planes proposed by Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, according to a copy of the letter viewed by Reuters.

Von der Leyen last month said Germany was looking at buying 4-6 of the Lockheed planes and operating them jointly with France, as a complement to a fleet of A400M transporters by Airbus.

It was not immediately clear whether the suggestion would prompt a review by the defence ministry, which has played up the benefits of sharing a fleet of transport planes with France as part of a broader push to increase European defence cooperation.

A spokesman for the defence ministry confirmed it had received the letter, but declined comment on its substance.

No comment was immediately available from Lockheed.

In the letter, first reported by Spiegel Online, Zypries said German firms would benefit more from a Brazilian purchase, citing weapons maker Rheinmetall AG as an example.

Germany's military initially planned to buy only Airbus A400M transporters to replace its aging fleet of C-160 Transall planes, which is due to be retired in 2021, but recently moved to buy some smaller planes for different tasks.

It remains unclear when Germany could sign a contract for the additional military transports.

Embraer is the world's third largest maker of commercial aircraft. Lockheed is the world's largest weapons maker. (Reporting by Sabine Siebold; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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