The sale of 80 Rafale fighters to the United Arab Emirates signed on Friday is not only “historic,” but also seems to confirm the good status of French fighter exports in recent years. However, a weapons expert contacted by France24 warned that the scope of this success should be put in perspective.
Cocoricos and superlative. On Friday, December 3, the contract for the sale of 80 Rafales in the United Arab Emirates was announced as “historic” by the Secretary of the Armed Forces, Florence Pali, and Dassault Aviation’s CEO Eric Trapier He expressed his pleasure that “France’s success” constituted “the most important contract in the history of French combat aviation.”
The owner of the Rafale manufacturer saw that Crown Prince Mohammed ben Zayed al-Nahyane of Abu Dhabi signed the agreement for 16 billion euros (of which 2 billion was used for armaments), it must be Coveted, setting a record manufacturer of French fighter jets.
Gusts rebirth from the ashes?
For Dassault Aviation, Thales (gust electricians), Safran (engines) and hundreds of subcontractors, this is a guarantee of more than six years of activities, because it takes at least one month to go out. A gust of wind from the factory.
The sale-less than a year before the next presidential election is also good news for President Emmanuel Macron-further strengthens Rafale’s reputation as a “Phoenix” .
In his more than 25 years of existence, this hunter has experienced many troughs for the first time. Rafale was considered the most advanced aircraft of its generation in its early days, but it is difficult to sell abroad.
Until 2015, Dassault Aviation did not see any progress. It’s not because of a lack of experimentation—whether in Brazil, India or already in the United Arab Emirates (negotiations have been going on since 2008)—but the gust seems to be too expensive.Its price is about 100 million euros, which does not include the “highest on the market” maintenance cost at the time. 2011 Law Papers of the University of ToulonIts competitors, such as Eurofighters, Gripen Group’s Swedish fighter jets and even American aircraft, often sell for much less than 100 million euros.
In fact, the three-color aircraft fell into a vicious circle at that time: Dassault Aviation could have economies of scale and sold less because of the large number of orders, but foreign countries were reluctant to buy them because of the price. And it’s not that the French market can make it sell more.
However, the gust proved its worth in Libya or Afghanistan in the late 2000s. According to the economic daily La Tribune, the French hunter’s baptism of fire under real conditions constituted a turning point.
This is what led Egypt to become the first purchaser of approximately 20 Rafale fighters outside the French army in 2015. Then the contract “multiplied” until a contract was signed with the United Arab Emirates, and the UAE became the sixth member of the Rafale Foreign Clients Club, tied with Egypt, India, Qatar, Greece and Croatia.
The sales contract signed in Dubai even made the Rafale, which has been struggling to leave the French lair, an aircraft that has sold more abroad than France (236 internationally and 192 in France).
The heavy shadow of the American F-35
But this rebirth story will make gusts, once qualified “The Cursed Plane”Alexandre Vautravers, a security and armaments expert contacted by France24 and editor-in-chief of the Swiss Military Review (RMS), warned that a “success story” that covers more and more countries must be put in perspective. “This is still very obvious. In direct competition, starting with Lockheed Martin’s American F-35, it was announced at the same time, “the Swiss expert was appointed.”
Lockheed Martin has sold nearly 1,000 F-35s worldwide, which does not include orders from the US military itself. More extensive orders have allowed the American manufacturer to achieve what Dassault Aviation could not achieve: lower prices through economies of scale. Therefore, the cost of F-35A is less than 80 million U.S. dollars (70 million euros).
As a result, the Rafale has a disturbing situation: the F-35 is cheaper, but has a shorter update time (only 15 years of service), “according to the estimation of the Swiss authorities, the efficiency is increased by 40%”, Alexander Watertrafer Si emphasized.
These two aircraft belong to the same market segment of multifunctional fighters or “omniroles” in Dassault Aviation’s official terminology. In other words, in the same mission, they have the ability to fight for air superiority—the traditional mission of fighter jets—to bomb and support ground forces. But in addition, the F-35 can also fly in a completely stealthy manner, which is different from gusts and has greater autonomy.
The main advantage of the French aircraft manufacturer is geopolitics. “The best selling point of the Rafales is that they can circumvent a possible US embargo,” Alexander Watertravers assured. In other words, if Washington decides to hit a country with economic sanctions, it is best not to rely solely on American equipment to defend itself. “Rafales—just like the Russian system—make diversification possible,” emphasized Swiss experts.
In general, the sales of Rafale are the most important, “because the market for all participants is growing.” According to him, the real test for assessing the popularity of French aircraft is to calculate the new country in which Dassault has won its competitors.
Alexander Watertravers emphasized that most of Rafale’s sales are made “in countries that already have French aircraft.” Egypt, Greece and the United Arab Emirates have all signed agreements to renew the French Phantom Fleet. Even India already has tri-color fighter jets. In other words, France has not really attracted new customers.
This is why the current sale of 36 French aircraft to Indonesia is so important for Dassault Aviation. This will be the first country to switch to “Made in France” since the first Rafale flight.