On May 4th Qatar signed contracts to buy 24 French Rafale fighter aircraft. A Rafale costs between $90 and $100 million (just the aircraft only). The cost per aircraft can often more than double as you add training, spare parts, maintenance equipment, long term service agreements and special facilities. The Qatar deal includes missiles, training for 36 pilots and some 100 mechanics and is believed to be worth more than $7 billion. One important consideration here is that France has sold warplanes to Qatar before and Qatar was satisfied with the aircraft, training and support provided. Currently Qatar operates twelve Mirage 2000-5EDA fighters and six Alpha Jets (a light attack and advanced training aircraft). The Rafale contract triple their fighter force although the Mirage 2000s are close to retirement.
This was the second export sale (Egypt earlier bought 24 aircraft) this year. Egypt will get their first Rafale in late 2015 while Qatar will in 2017. Currently France is only Rafale user with 180 ordered so far and about 130 delivered. India is close to signing a contract for 36 Rafales but that deal has been close but not signed for years. This is normal for India, which will often prolong this “we will sign but not just yet” status for years. These two sales are big news in France.
The Rafale design is a further evolution of the Mirage 2000 (from the same manufacturer) and has the Delta Wing configuration common with the Mirage designs but with canards (a small forewing is placed ahead of the main wing). Rafale has a maximum speed of 2,450 kilometers an hour and a range of over 3,700 kilometers. It is equipped with a 30mm cannon and can carry over nearly ten tons of weapons. It is a battle tested aircraft that has already seen service in Afghanistan, Mali, Libya and Iraq. No Rafales have been lost in combat but four were destroyed in accidents. There is a naval version of Rafale that has operated off French and American carriers.
After 20 years of trying the Rafale has gone from an export zero to export hero in 45 days. France has had nothing but hard times trying to find export customers and had to cut the production rate to 11 aircraft a year, but now they will have to do the opposite. Furthermore we are observing growing interest in French made fighter and among potential buyers in the Middle East are United Arab Emirates, and maybe Kuwait together with Bahrain
Moreover in Europe Swiss are re-launching their fighter procurement effort in 2017 despite “NO” in a referendum from last year. Their Minister of Defense said that European aircraft (Gripen NG and Rafale) and the U.S. (most likely the Super Hornet) will be major competitors for the Swiss contract.