N ° 4 Top 2021: Rafale order from UAE could lead to new short-term contracts

Article from December 7, 2021, N ° 4 of the TOP 2021 with 97.000 unique reads

La order for 80 Rafale aircraft signed last Friday by the United Arab Emiratesits profoundly upset the industrial dynamic around the French combat aircraft, by securing the durability and production of the assembly line over the next ten years, and by placing the Rafale and the F35 on an equal footing, Abu Dabi having confirmed that he was still determined to acquire the 50 American fighter planes from Lockheed-Martin to evolve alongside the new French plane. But this order also puts under pressure several partners from France, who had indicated a potential intention to order the aircraft, while the production line of Merignac will pass in the coming months a production rate of 3 planes per month. , considered as the upper limit thereof. Indeed, several countries, such as Qatar, Egypt, India or Indonesia, are currently in talks with Dassault Aviation, Team Rafale and the services of the French State, for possible additional orders. .

Qatar was the second customer to order the French fighter plane in 2015, shortly after Egypt. The 24 aircraft initially ordered were supplemented in 2017 by the lifting of an option for 12 additional aircraft, as well as the modernization of the entire fleet to the F3R standard. On this occasion, Doha also took a new option, this time on 36 additional aircraft. At the same time, the small gas state ordered 24 Eurofighter Typhoons and 36 F-15QAs to complete its fighter fleet, which then left France little hope of seeing this option come true. The situation is now quite different with the order of the 80 Rafale Emirati, Abu Dabi being the main geopolitical competitor of Doha in the Persian Gulf. In fact, Doha could quickly be tempted to place an additional order by lifting the option of 36 aircraft. to standard F4, so as to align 72 Rafale in a fleet of 132 modern combat aircraft, that is to say as many as the 130 Rafale and F35 targeted by the UAE.

Qatar still has an option on 36 additional Rafale, an option that could be lifted on the altar of the competition between Doha and Abu Dabi in the Persian Gulf

For Cairo, the interest in the F4 standard had been clearly announced even though the country ordered 30 additional Rafale last spring, with the stated objective of eventually operating a fleet of 80 aircraft of this type. For the Egyptian air forces, which also use American F-16s but also Russian Mig-29s and Su-35s, the Rafale is of double interest. In the first place, it makes it possible to communicate both with American platforms and with Russian platforms, France being less rigid than the United States in this area. Secondly, due to the acquisition of Russian equipment, and in particular Su-35 and Mig-29 fighters, Cairo knows that it is fully excluded from the possibility of acquiring the American F-35 in the short or medium term, and the Rafale, in its F4 version, offers precisely capabilities comparable to that of the American aircraft.

India is also one of the most serious prospects for Dassault Aviation, and this on several levels. First, the Indian air forces urge New Delhi to urgently order a second batch of 36 Rafales, in order to complete the two squadrons being formed with the first 36 aircraft ordered, and the delivery of which is almost entirely carried out. Indeed, these devices are now a critical tool in the hands of the Indian Air Force, to respect their Chinese and Pakistani counterparts which, too, are modernizing with great strides, with the arrival of very modern devices such as the J-20 or the JF-17 BlockIII. At the same time, the French plane is engaged in a competition against the American Super Hornet to equip future Indian aircraft carriers, while participating in the MMRCA 2 competition which involves the acquisition of 114 light or medium devices in local production.

The Indian Air Force continues to call for a second order for 36 Rafale to strengthen its capabilities against the Pakistani and Chinese air forces.

However, in the case of India, the Rafale has many advantages over its American or European competitors. First, the first order for 36 aircraft included the construction of a large maintenance site to support a fleet of more than 150 Rafale aircraft if necessary. In addition, unlike the F-16 (21), Gripen E and other F-15EX, the Rafale has already been brought up to Indian standards, in particular to implement armaments and equipment specific to the IAF. These two factors combine to make the Rafale more economically competitive than its potential competitors. Finally, and this is far from being negligible, in India, as in Egypt or in Greece, the Rafale enjoys an exceptional image with public opinion, and the announcement of additional orders would undoubtedly be very positively received by this one.

Indonesia, too, is in negotiations with France to acquire 36 Rafale planes, in an effort to increase the Indonesian air force to 170 aircraft by 2030. If, for a while, the announcement of an order from Jakarta was announced as next, it now seems that the negotiations have taken a slower, even more difficult trajectory, especially since the country has signed an ambitious naval partnership with Italy, by acquiring 6 FREMM frigates, without France having heard of these negotiations. It is true that, like India, negotiations on arms contracts with Jakarta are known to be difficult, the Russians having been able to experience it with the order of 12 Su-35 fighters still in operation. 'off for 5 years now.

Greece has hinted that a new Rafale order could not be ruled out in the future, even if the country's budgetary capacities do not allow it to go beyond the 24 aircraft already ordered.

Finally, Greece also hinted that a new order for French Rafale could not be ruled out, in parallel with an order for American F-35s. But this will only happen in the relatively distant future, as Athens has already made heavy budgetary commitments. with the acquisition of 24 Rafale and 3 FDI frigates, as well as the modernization of 80 of its F-16 to the Block 70 Viper standard, and being currently engaged in negotiations about Gowind 2500 corvettes. In addition, beyond its naval and air components, the Greek armed forces must also henceforth finance the modernization of its medium armored fleet, ie nearly 2500 vehicles ranging from VCI to light armored vehicles.

Other countries have been designated as potential partners of France with regard to the Rafale, as is the case with Iraq but also with Ukraine. For these countries, as for other countries in Eastern Europe, Asia and South America, the solution could come from the model implemented with Greece and Croatia, on the basis of airplanes. second-hand vehicles taken from the Air Force or even the National Navy fleet, and replaced by new devices to a higher standard. Beyond the temporary loss of capacity that such contracts can generate, this approach is economically positive both for the defense industry and for the State budget, while allowing the national armed forces to have new aircraft, and potentially more apt to evolve towards higher standards, beyond the F4.2 standard. In addition, this makes it possible to extend the fleet of French aircraft users, which generates significant recurring industrial activity with 100 direct, indirect and induced jobs per exported aircraft, and loyalty of the air force to French equipment. Remember that out of the 6 Rafale export customers to date, 5 were Mirage 2000 customers.

The next LPM could see the format of the Air and Space Army, and potentially that of the French Navy's on-board fighter, increase to meet new global security requirements.

For all these potential customers, a race against time has now begun to block the remaining production slots on the Mérignac line, ie a total of 120 devices to be produced over the next 10 years. It seems highly improbable that local production will be considered for volumes ranging from a dozen to a maximum of forty devices, just as it would be necessary to accumulate at least 200 to 250 new orders over 10 years to justify the implementation of a second production line. Apart from the very specific Indian MMRCA 2 contract, places are now counted for future Rafale customers, especially since France itself could have to increase the volume of its own orders from 2025, and the arrival of a new Military Programming Law based on a probable new White Paper, ignoring the current formats resulting from a bygone security period.

The fact remains that this situation is also a double-edged sword. Indeed, other international players, such as Eurofighter and Saab in Europe, or Boeing in the United States, are suffering from a production deficit, and could therefore do everything possible to come and seize shares. markets initially intended for the French aircraft, knowing precisely where to strike and with what arguments to try to influence the positions of the leaders of each of these countries. One thing is certain, the teams of commercial negotiators from Dassault Aviation and the Rafale team, already in great demand in 2021, will probably experience an equally intense year in 2022. We can only wish them the same success as for the past year!

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