India, Indonesia: Should we change the paradigms of the Rafale program to anticipate future success?

2021 will undoubtedly have been the year of consecration for Dassault Aviation, Safran, Thales, MBDA and the some 400 French companies forming Team Rafale, with 146 firm orders for export or in compensation for used aircraft. And 2022 could well be a good year too, with two major contracts in sight, India for its Navy on the one hand, and to strengthen its air forces on the other hand in the face of the Chinese and Pakistani rise in power, and Indonesia which now systematically integrates the Rafale in its presentations concerning the evolution of its air force. At the same time, France itself has ordered aircraft to take over from its Mirage 2000 Cs, and today more than 100 new Rafales will have to be delivered by 2035 to the French Army. 'Air and Space.

However, this success is not without posing real industrial and operational challenges for France. Indeed, the Rafale production line in Merignac can produce, according to Dassault Aviation, up to 3 new aircraft per month, or 36 aircraft per year. The orders taken in 2021, the planning of deliveries for the Air Force, and the more than serious prospects under negotiation, are already enough to saturate this industrial capacity over the next 10 years. While this situation is undeniably the envy of many aircraft manufacturers around the world, it is not without creating real handicaps, since there is no longer any industrial room for maneuver to respond to new orders, national orders, export or compensation for the sale of second-hand aircraft, yet an extremely promising market for the Rafale. Can we, in this context, imagine new paradigms for the Rafale Program, so as to take advantage of the current momentum in the short, medium and long term, while meeting the obvious needs to increase the mass of French air forces?

It took just one year between the signing of the Greek contract and the arrival of the first 6 Rafales in Greece, a determining factor in the success of this contract

Before committing to the presentation of an optimized alternative solution, it is advisable to pose some postulates explaining the present situation. Today, in fact, the Rafale program is, so to speak, piloted on sight by the French authorities, and has been for nearly fifteen years. Where France was initially to order 320 aircraft delivered in a dozen years so as to form the industrial pillar on which Dassault Aviation could plan to build its export strategy, it piloted the program "at a minimum", that is that is, by placing short-term orders essential to keep the production line running, i.e. 11 devices per year, all while lowering the targeted volume of devices to 225, and spreading these deliveries over twenty years. This led to a significant increase in the production costs of the device, which constituted a handicap during international competitions.

The orders for 2015 (Egypt and Qatar) and 2016 (India) enabled France to suspend its own acquisitions, so as to preserve its meager defense credits for certain other priority programs, the commitment to acquire 11 Rafale per year respected by France having seriously undermined the ambitions of other programs, such as FREMM for example. Since then, the paradigm governing this program has been to prioritize export orders over national orders, both to meet customer expectations for fast deliveries and to allow the financing of other equally urgent programs in the armies. And the 2021 orders are no exception, as the deliveries expected by the UAE, Egypt, Croatia and Greece are all spread over the next 7 years, leaving very little industrial margin to integrate new other "urgent" orders from export customers such as national armies.

The format of the French air forces defined by the White Paper of 2013 provides for only 225 Rafale combat aircraft by 2030, a number now considered too limited in the face of the tightening of international relations.

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