Procurement: Rafale Still Stuck With Single Suitor


November 18, 2009: France has ordered another 60 Rafale jet fighters. This follows another order for 60, made a year ago. All these will be delivered over the next 6-7 years. Officially, France plans to buy 294, and over 70 have been delivered so far. Three years ago, the French Air Force activated its first squadron of Rafale fighters. The navy had received ten navalized Rafales three years before that, for service on the nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. The first prototype of Rafale was shown in 1986, and the aircraft should have entered service in the late 1990s. France expects to use Rafale for another three decades.

While one of the more modern combat aircraft in the world, development of the Rafale was delayed by technical problems, and shortages of money. Entering development just as the Cold War ended meant that there was little enthusiasm to spend billions on an aircraft that would face no real opposition. But, facing the need to eventually replace all those Mirage fighters, development did get restarted, creating an aircraft superior to the American F-15s and F-16s, very similar to the F-18F, but inferior to the F-22 and F-35.

The Eurofighter, and several other very competitive aircraft have made export sales scarce. By 2006, the French armed forces had only ordered 120 Rafales (82 for the air force, 38 for the navy). The 28 ton aircraft sell for about $100 million each, and it is hoped that someone will order Rafale, and get some export action going.

France has had nothing but hard times trying to find export customers for its Rafale. Earlier this year, the production rate the Rafale was reduced from 14 a year to 11 a year. This was to slow down the delivery of Rafales, mainly because the Defense Ministry has decided that other things were more important. The new emphasis (and spending) is on peacekeeping and anti-missile defenses. Another reason for slowing down Rafale production was the lack of export orders. That will probably change, eventually.

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