BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) _ President Fernando Henrique Cardoso approved a $3 billion plan to modernize the country's aging air force, the defense minister said Thursday.

Geraldo Quintao said the air force will begin negotiations with various aircraft manufacturers to get the best prices for the modernization of 100 Brazilian fighter jets and the purchase of 76 new patrol plains.

Brazilian aircraft builder Embraer will collaborate with the government on at least three programs, Quintao said.

Brazil's long-neglected air force has been showing signs of serious fraying in recent years.

With an annual budget of only $183 million, defense analysts say the air force is unable to patrol all of the country's airspace and would be incapable of defending itself in a medium-intensity conflict.

Of the air force's 53 top-of-the-line AMX fighters, only 13 are in working order, and of the 18 planes used to transport top officials only four are working.

But others have questioned the need for a well-funded air force in a country with no immediate threats from its neighbors and seriously underfunded highways and health services.