Will the Rafale be the heir to the Mirage III for the future of the French aeronautical industry?

Fast, agile, powerful and well-armed, the Mirage III is unquestionably a legend in military fighter aviation around the world. In the hands of Israeli pilots, Dassault Aviation's single-engine delta-wing fighter prevailed against Arab MiGs and Hunters during the Six-Day and Yom Kippur wars, and played a decisive role in the Jewish state's victory in the these two conflicts, adorning the aircraft with an aura of efficiency and performance that built its export success with 1400 aircraft built (Mirage III and V), and which imposed Dassault Aviation's fighters on the international market during several decades. The Mirage III/V was thus exported to 13 countries, its successor the Mirage F1 to 10 countries, and the Mirage 2000 to 8 countries. Each of these aircraft retained the key advantages of the Mirage III, namely high performance for a compact and economical aircraft to purchase and operate compared to the majority of American aircraft, such as the F-100 Super Saber and the F-104 Starfighter for the Mirage III, to the F-4 Phantom II for the Mirage F1, and to the Tornado, F-15 and F-18 for the 2000, even if the latter two suffered from the arrival of the F-16 American Falcon, precisely designed as a light and economical fighter like the French fighters, and not in the traditional Anglo-Saxon trend.

With the Rafale, Dassault Aviation took a significant risk, by targeting not its favorite field, high-performance single-engine fighters, but a versatile twin-engine fighter, a field in which the Americans and British had established themselves in the West for several decades, with the F-4 Phantom and then the F-14, F-15, Tornado and the F-18, and as they developed new models of this type with the Typhoon from the Eurofighter consortium, the F-22 from Lockheed-Martin and Boeing's F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet. After nearly two decades of lean cows marked by resounding export failures against the F-16 (Morocco), the F-35 (Netherlands, Denmark) and even the Swedish Gripen (Brazil), the Rafale finally succeeded to convince its first three export customers in 2015, Egypt for 24 aircraft, Qatar for 24 aircraft (+12 options exercised in 2017), and India with 36 aircraft. But the real consecration for the Rafale came in 2021, when Greece (18+ 6 devices), Croatia (12 aircraft), Egypt (30 aircraft) et the United Arab Emirates (80 aircraft) announced their orders, followed in 2022 by Indonesia (42 aircraft), making the French fighter the greatest export success of its generation, far surpassing the Typhoon, Super Hornet, Eagle II and Su-35, and transforming what was long perceived even in France as a costly failure, into a real international success.

The Mirage III forged the image and success of the French defense aeronautics industry for several decades

Other countries are in negotiations with Dassault Aviation for new orders, even if the French manufacturer has learned from these failures, and remains particularly discreet on the subject. Thereby, the Rafale is considered to be very well placed in the competition which opposes it to the Super Hornet to equip Indian aircraft carriers, especially since the future of the second is now sealed with the cancellation of the German order and the refusal of the US Navy to order new aircraft in 2023, while a new order from the Indian Air Force is under discussion, and that the Rafale is also considered a very serious contender for the MMRCA 2 super contract involving 114 aircraft. Greece as Egypt have also hinted that a new Rafale order could occur in the future, especially since the announced performance of the Rafale F4 and the expectations as to the capabilities of the F5 standard are of interest to these countries in particular. Qatar must also arbitrate on the remaining option of 24 aircraft, while Iraq also seems interested in the French aircraft as part of the modernization of its air force. The French fighter is finally offered to other countries in a more or less supported way, while in an article published today, the very well informed Michel Cabirol suggests that Serbia would also be interested in the Rafale to replace its Soviet aircraft with 12 French planes.


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