Political Ties Tip Balance On Rafale Exports

Discussion in 'Europe and Russia' started by sorcerer, May 25, 2015.

  1. sorcerer

    sorcerer Senior Member Senior Member

    Apr 13, 2013
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    Political Ties Tip Balance on Rafale Exports

    PARIS — A fostering of close political ties with foreign governments has clearly helped France sell the Rafale fighter jet abroad, leaving lessons for Britain to learn for sales of the Eurofighter Typhoon, analysts said.The Rafale usually features prominently in the Paris Air Show and the upcoming event will likely see a large quantity of sparkly white wine offered to the industrial team led by Dassault, Snecma and Thales, thanks to the recent export deals.

    An indicator of the political weight could be seen with President François Hollande attending a signing May 4 of Qatar's €6.3 billion ($7 billion) order for 24 Rafales and missiles.

    Dassault Aviation Chairman Eric Trappier hailed the role played by Hollande, defense and foreign ministers, and the armed forces in the deal with Doha.

    "Its [Rafale's] export success also lies on geopolitical factors," Trappier said. "I salute the mobilization of the French authorities, which strengthened the strategic relations, already well established, with Qatar," he said May 3 in Le Figaro, a daily newspaper owned by the Dassault family.

    Hollande and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian worked on the political and military ties, while Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius took care of diplomatic relations, Trappier said. The services flew the twin-jet fighter, which carried the "combat-proven" sticker.

    Dassault will follow up on the Indian agreement to buy 36 Rafales and hopes to sign a contract in the coming weeks or months, he said.

    Other countries have shown interest and more Rafale export deals could be signed this year. "Yes, it is possible," he said.

    The United Arab Emirates has restarted discussions for a more capable version of the Rafale. Other potential clients include Belgium and Malaysia. Egypt was the first foreign client, signing in February for 24 units as part of a €5.2 billion arms order.

    The agreement between Hollande and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Rafales was negotiated by government officials behind closed doors, with the Dassault executives in the anteroom, a British executive said.

    "The French government has been extremely active in supporting its defense industry win large new orders for Rafale," consultant Howard Wheeldon of Wheeldon Strategic said. "In the onslaught to win orders internationally the French government all but sidelined the Rafale manufacturer, Dassault."

    French political support is not new. Nicolas Sarkozy, when he was head of state, pursued Rafale export deals but failed to deliver. Sarkozy, however, did succeed in selling two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia in 2011.

    France rather than the UK has stepped in as the US influence has declined in the Arabian Gulf, an executive in the UK said.

    Michael Clarke, director-general of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), highlighted the British failure to match French diplomacy in a briefing in London on May 13.

    "The key issue for Britain in the Middle East is our friends in the Gulf," he said. "We have not expressed ourselves [in support] as strongly as we might. France has stolen a march on us in Qatar and the UAE in lots of respects. :biggrin2:It's a competition, and fair enough, they have done that. ... We have talked about it but not committed ourselves as much as we should."

    Eurofighter Typhoon CEO Alberto Gutierrez said, "The international fighter market is very tough and in most cases decided and influenced by political interests."

    With the Rafale sweeping the order board in recent weeks, the Typhoon is on the back foot as it approaches the Paris Air Show. The rival European fast jet makers Dassault and Saab now have the advantage of production runs stretching into the 2020s.

    For Eurofighter, the four assembly lines in the partner nations Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain are scheduled to fall silent in 2018 unless new orders are received or other measures taken to retain activity.

    As May began, the Eurofighter partners still had 143 jets to deliver to Arabian Gulf customers and the core nations.

    Responding to questions from Defense News, Gutierrez declined to discuss closure dates for the assembly lines but said plans were in place to continue Eurofighter production for a long period beyond 2018.

    "It's not the right time to discuss potential closures," he said. "The final assembly lines will stay open to meet new orders, retrofits and midlife upgrades. We are planning responsibly to ensure that Eurofighter can be produced way beyond 2018."

    Gutierrez said there remain numerous fighter competitions around the world open to Typhoon, despite setbacks in India and Qatar and probably Kuwait. The latter is expected to order the Boeing F/A-18.

    "We must be patient. The international fighter market is a long-term business, and procurement decisions will not be made on a day-to-day basis," Gutierrez said. "In principle, we still expect to gain a market share of about 20-25 percent."

    Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Malaysia, Indonesia, Belgium, Denmark, Poland and Finland are export prospects, he said, for an aircraft that counts Austria, Oman and the Saudis as foreign customers.

    Industry executives said the best short-term opportunities for further sales probably lie with a Saudi top-up order for 48 or more jets and a knock-on deal for a squadron's worth of jets with Riyadh's neighbor and ally, Bahrain.

    Further out is a possible Malaysian sale but a decision on rival offerings, which have included a possible leasing deal, have retreated in the last couple of years for political and economic reasons, and it will probably be 2017 or 2018 before a winner is declared, said one executive in the UK.

    As often is the case where fighter deals are in the offing, politics are as important as the aircraft themselves.

    The French government appears to have decisively outscored the Eurofighter nations in general and the British in particular with a more consistent and robust policy, especially in the key gulf region, executives in the UK said.

    BAE Systems is responsible for most of the Typhoon export campaigns in the Arabian Gulf, although Finmeccancia took the lead in the Kuwait competition.

    Justin Bronk, an air power analyst at the RUSI think tank in London, has published a report looking at Typhoon's potential to meet Europe's air power requirements, which concludes the jet is already the best air superiority fighter outside of the F-22 Raptor but is outclassed for the moment by the more mature Rafale in the air-to-ground role.

    "In the Eurofighter, the European states have the most formidable non-stealth air-superiority platform in the world," Bronk said.

    With the entry into service of Storm Shadow and Brimstone II missiles, on contract to the UK Royal Air Force in 2018, and with an active electronically scanned array radar in development, Typhoon capabilities "should surpass that of the Rafale in many respects," he said.

    Saab's Gripen fighter jet also is riding a new surge, powered by last year's deal to sell 36 Gripen NGs to Brazil and a 2015 Swedish government commitment to buy 60 JAS 39 Gripen E and F fighters.

    "Our order backlog is at an all-time high," Ulf Nilsson, head of Saab aeronautics, told reporters April 27 on a Saab-sponsored press tour at the company's aircraft factory in Linköping, Sweden.

    The Brazilian deal, Nilsson said, was "a game changer. Before that, Gripen was an aircraft looking for a market. Now it's a market looking for Gripen. And we can see that in many ways; it's really changed with Brazil. It's more global. It's changed the way we communicate."

    The Brazilian F-X2 deal, announced in December 2013, was finalized in October, while a new deal with Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer was announced April 14.

    "We look at Embraer as another production line for Gripen," said Jerker Ahlqvist, Saab Gripen's vice president for business area aeronautics.

    Should more orders materialize, Gripens could be built in Brazil for sale to other countries under joint venture agreements although, Nilsson pointed out, "we would have to apply Swedish export rules," which include prohibitions of weapon sales to certain countries.

    Seven air forces operate or are committed to operating Gripens. Current owners include Sweden, South Africa, Thailand and Brazil, while the Czech Republic and Hungary operate leased aircraft. Slovakia has chosen Gripen in a deal still being finalized.

    With commitments for at least 96 new aircraft, Saab is pushing for more Gripen sales. The company, Ahlqvist said, sees a worldwide market of between 300 and 450 fighter aircraft over the next 20 years, excluding markets where Swedish regulations prevent Saab from competing — markets that include many of the air forces in the Arabian Gulf region. But, Ahlqvist noted, plenty of other markets are open.

    One nation the Swedes are eyeing is Finland which, Ahlqvist said, is expected to buy between 40 and 60 fighters. While the competition is expected to be the F-35 joint strike fighter and the Typhoon, Saab is optimistic.

    "We see that Gripen has a good chance in Finland," he said.

    Email: [email protected]

    Christopher P. Cavas in Washington and Andrew Chuter in London contributed to this report.



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  3. sob

    sob Moderator Moderator

    May 4, 2009
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    New Delhi
    French are a very pragmatic nation and they know that Diplomacy works very well in the international arms Bazaar.

    No wonder the British Arms Industry is almost dead.

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