This puts an end to a long suspense, as well as some concerns. Indeed, the Minister of the French Armies Florence Parly, traveling to Zagreb for the signing of the sale of 12 used Rafale to Croatia, confirmed by a tweet that the devices, which will be taken from the army park Air and Space, will effectively be replaced by an order that will be launched in 2023. In all likelihood, new fighter jets will be ordered concomitantly with the first batch of 30 Rafale at standard F 4.2, which is also to take place at this time according to the planning of the Military Programming Law 2019.2025. In total, therefore, the Air Force and Space should therefore effectively have the 159 Rafales planned for 2028, for a final target of 185 aircraft at the start of the following decade.
This decision was far from being recorded since the announcement of the choice of Zagreb in favor of the French aircraft against the American F-16V and the Swedish JAS 39 Gripen C. Indeed, after having initially guaranteed that the 12 planes taken from the Air Force fleet would give rise to a full replacement as was the case for the 12 second-hand Rafale acquired by Athens a few months earlier, the French authorities, and in particular the Ministry of the Armed Forces, seemed to be heading towards an indication of the credits linked to this sale to finance the modernization of the 14 Rafale F3s which, today, served as a stock of parts for the Air Force, while waiting to be able to finance their modernization.
The Rafale F4, the first standard of the second phase of evolution of the Rafale, will not be made up of one, but of two standards. The F 4.1, available a priori at the end of next year, will be the new standard for aircraft coming from a later standard, and in particular the current F3R standard. It will give the French combat aircraft new capabilities, notably with modernized sensors, a new version of the SPECTRA self-protection system, and the integration of new weapons such as the MICA NG air-to-air missile. The F 4.2 standard will, for its part, be available in 2024 and exclusively reserved for new aircraft, since it incorporates certain structural changes to the aircraft. These developments will allow it in particular to significantly increase its data processing and fusion capacities, allowing it to come as close as possible to the capacities offered by so-called 5th generation aircraft in this field. The two lines will evolve in parallel thereafter towards the later standards, the F 4.2 naturally offering extended integration capacities vis-à-vis the F4.1.
In fact, replacing Rafale in the fleet with new aircraft that will be delivered directly to the F4.2 standard is naturally an opportunity for the Air and Space Force, since its new aircraft will not only have extensive and full flight potential, but also enhanced scalability, with a focus on convergence towards European SCAF. It is also an excellent budgetary operation, since the revenue for the State generated by the sale of the 12 second-hand devices combined with the revenue linked to the production of the 12 new devices will undoubtedly exceed the investments necessary for acquire these new devices, while saving modernization costs.
Still, the announcement made by Florence Parly is only partially binding, since it only engages, in the end, Emmanuel Macron, and this only if he were actually re-elected in 2022. However, until now, questions of defense seem to be approached in a superficial way, if not totally ignored, by all the candidates for the Supreme Magistracy, whether or not they are actually declared, and one can fear, therefore, that announcements of this type in no way constitute a firm commitment by the State in favor of its armies. One can wonder, under these conditions, if it would not have been preferable to place this order in the short term before the presidential elections, and not to postpone it to 2023, with deliveries in 2026 or 2027 as certainly imagined by the Minister of the Armed Forces, so as to guarantee its perfect execution, whatever the result of the upcoming elections.