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Rafale Hangs On
by James Dunnigan
November 17, 2008

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France has ordered another 60 Rafale jet fighters, to be delivered over the next five years. Ultimately, France plans to buy 294, and 60 have been delivered so far. Two years ago, the French Air Force activated its first squadron of Rafale fighters. The navy had received ten navalized Rafales two 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.

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 was another competitor for scarce export sales. By 2006, the French armed forces have only ordered 120 Rafales (82 for the air force, 38 for the navy), although eventually over 300 are expected to be ordered. The 28 ton aircraft sell for about $100 million each, and so far, there have bee

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