With billions of new contracts, the French Rafale fighter is making a comeback – .

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With billions of new contracts, the French Rafale fighter is making a comeback – .


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<p><strong>Phoenix renaît de ses cendres ? </strong>

The sale – which is also good economic news for French President Emmanuel Macron, just over four months from the next presidential election – further strengthens the Rafale’s reputation as the “phoenix” of military aviation.

During its more than 25 years of existence, the jet has faced challenges and emerged in different variations. Presented as one of the most advanced fighters when it was created, the Rafale struggled to sell abroad.

Negotiations for the sale of Rafale fighters have dragged on for more than a decade, with Abu Dhabi publicly rejecting France’s offer to supply 60 planes in 2011 as “uncompetitive and impractical”.

Until 2015, Dassault Aviation was fighting an uphill battle – and it wasn’t for lack of trying. Whether in Brazil, India or the United Arab Emirates (negotiations had been underway with Abu Dhabi since 2008), the Rafale was deemed too expensive: its selling price was around 100 million euros, not to mention of its maintenance costs, which were “among the highest on the market”, according to a report published by the University of Toulon in 2011. Its competitors, such as the multinational Eurofighter, the Swedish fighters Gripen and the American jets, sell often less than 100 million euros.

In fact, the French plane was locked in a vicious cycle: Dassault Aviation needed more orders before economies of scale allowed it to sell at a lower price, but countries were reluctant to commit to buying in. because of the price. And sales of the plane to the French army alone would never be large enough.

Finally, the Rafale demonstrated its usefulness in Libya and Afghanistan as the first decade of the 2000s drew to a close, sparking more international interest. Its performance in combat conditions was the tipping point, according to the business daily La Tribune.

In 2015, Egypt became the first buyer of Rafale outside the French army, buying around 20 planes. Other contracts followed – with India, Qatar, Greece and Croatia – until the UAE this week became the sixth member of the Rafale’s foreign customer club.

This latest contract now allows more Rafale to be sold abroad than in France (236 international sales compared to 192 domestic).

Long shadow of the American F-35

But the rebirth of the Rafale – once described as a “cursed aircraft” and now considered a success story – is not so impressive when viewed in the context of the broader international arms market, said Alexandre. Vautravers, weapons expert and editor-in-chief of Swiss Military. Revision (RMS). “This achievement is still well below what direct competition – starting with the American F-35 from Lockheed Martin – announced at the same time,” he told FRANCE 24.

Lockheed Martin has already sold nearly 1,000 F-35s around the world, not counting orders from the US military itself. And more orders mean that the American manufacturer can do what Dassault Aviation cannot: lower its price. The F-35A model costs less than $ 80 million (€ 70 million).

This leaves the Rafale in an awkward position. The F-35 is cheaper, newer (it has only been in service for 15 years) and “40% more efficient, according to Swiss authorities’ estimates,” Vautravers explained.

The two planes occupy the same market niche: multi-purpose or “omni-purpose” combat aircraft, to use the official jargon of Dassault Aviation. During a single mission, they are able to establish air superiority – the traditional mission of fighter jets – as well as conduct bombing and ground support operations.

But the F-35 is also a stealth fighter plane, which is not the case with the Rafale, and has greater autonomy.

A geopolitical weapon?

The main asset of the French aircraft is strategic.

“The Rafale’s biggest selling point is that it circumvents any possible US embargo,” said Vautravers. It is better not to depend solely on the United States for defense equipment in case Washington imposes economic sanctions. “Rafales – like Russian systems – allow people to diversify,” he said.

Overall, Rafales are selling better now “because there is a growing market,” said Vautravers. The real test to assess the performance of the French aircraft in a competitive market is to look at the countries where Dassault has found new buyers.

Most of Rafale’s sales were made “in countries that had already bought French planes,” he said. Egypt, Greece and the United Arab Emirates have all signed to renew their French fleets. Even India already had French fighter planes. France has failed to attract new customers, only to keep the old ones.

The negotiations underway to sell 36 French planes to Indonesiq are therefore essential for Dassault, because an agreement would finally bring France a brand new customer.

This article has been translated from the original into French.

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