Sweden's Saab AB prevailed over U.S. giant Boeing and French manufacturer Dassault Aviation in a competition to supply the Brazilian air force with 36 aircraft to replace its aging Mirage 2000s, Brazil said Wednesday.

Brasilia agreed to pay $4.5 billion for 36 Gripen NG jet fighters, marking the end of a process that has unfolded in fits and starts since 2001 under three different presidents.

Dassault wanted $8 billion for 36 units of its Rafale fighter, while Boeing was asking $7.5 billion for three-dozen F/A-18 Super Hornets, the Brazilian government said in a statement.

The decision for the Gripen "took into account performance, the effective transfer of technology and costs - not just of acquisition but of maintenance," Defense Minister Celso Amorim told a press conference.

Besides offering the lowest price, Saab promised comprehensive technology sharing with Brazil.

Securing a transfer of the relevant technology has become a Brazilian priority in major defense procurement deals.

"The technology transfer will give us intellectual ownership of everything," Brazil's air force chief, Brig. Gen. Juniti Saito, said at the press conference with Amorim.

Some components of the fighters will be built in Brazil, Saito said.

The choice of the Gripen caught many by surprise, as a number of Brazilian officials had signaled their preference for the Rafale even as the pilots who will eventually fly the new fighters wanted the F/A-18. EFE