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Sales of France’s twin-engine Rafale jet have grown thanks to stricter US defense rules that have redirected defense orders to other destinations. This article explores the evolution of Rafale sales, the factors that have contributed to its success abroad, and the consequences of this trend for the defense industry.
The deafening roar of France’s Rafale fighter jets has become a tradition at the July 14th parades in Paris. This year, the event was marked by the presence of three Rafales belonging to the Indian Air Force, a tribute to war veterans and a sign of the defense agreements between the two countries, including a major Indian order for these fighter jets. For manufacturer Dassault Aviation, this is the latest success in a series. Foreign sales of the Rafale have been on the rise since 2015, and in recent tenders it has outperformed all its rivals, with the exception of the F35 made by American rival Lockheed Martin.
Rafale sales trends
The Rafale has enjoyed dazzling success abroad, but this has not always been the case. France, as a nuclear nation, has long adopted a policy of self-sufficiency, manufacturing its own aircraft capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The Rafale succeeded Dassault’s Mirage and was first adopted by the French Navy in 2004.
However, its success abroad began much later, helped by favorable geopolitical winds. These included stricter US defense export regulations, which diverted a number of orders from Middle Eastern countries to other destinations. In addition, due to the war in Ukraine, the Rafale should also benefit from some countries turning away from Russian suppliers.
Consequences of Rafale successes
Although the USA and Russia still dominate the industry, orders for the Rafale reached a record 21 billion euros last year, and France has increased its share of global arms sales to 11% by 2022, up from 7% previously. This trend has far-reaching consequences for the defense industry.
Some countries no longer want to buy Russian weapons, but neither do they want to opt for American aircraft. Éric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation, points out: “France can be that country which is traditionally a little more neutral. This means that France has become an attractive option for countries wishing to diversify their arms suppliers.
Diversification, French diplomacy and Rafale versatility
Diversification of the French Rafale’s specifications was a key element in the latest agreement with India. Its smaller size makes it more suited to the elevators of Indian aircraft carriers. According to the French newspaper Les Echos, the whole deal, including the associated missiles, was worth at least 3 to 4 billion euros.
Dassault Aviation, a subsidiary of Dassault, a French industrial conglomerate controlled by the descendants of aircraft inventor Marcel Dassault, is at the heart of this success story. This success has also been supported by French diplomacy and the Rafale’s versatility.
Competition from other fighter jets
Although sales of the Rafale have increased significantly, they still lag behind those of other fighter jets. The Rafale has been delivered or ordered worldwide for a total of around 500 units, half the number of F-35s that will have been delivered by the end of 2023. However, it has surpassed the number of sales of Lockheed’s Super Hornet and F-16, and is gradually catching up with sales of the Eurofighter Typhoon supported by the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Key factors in the Rafale’s success
One of the key factors in the Rafale’s success is the continuous improvement of its technical performance without a significant increase in costs. The Rafale takes three years to assemble, and last year 14 were delivered. The ultimate aim is to achieve at least three deliveries a month by increasing the capacity of Dassault Aviation’s seven French factories. This contrasts with Lockheed’s ambitions to produce 156 F-35s this year.
Impact on the defense industry
The Rafale’s success has had a significant impact on the French defense industry. While sales of the Falcon, the company’s private jets, have been eclipsed by orders for the Rafale, it underlines the relevance and growing demand for modern, versatile fighter aircraft.
The future of Rafale and the defense industry
In the long term, although France is engaging in collaborations with other European countries to develop the next generation of fighter jets, it will be difficult to compete with the USA due to their superior investment and infrastructure.
Dassault, in partnership with Airbus, is working on the Future Combat Air System, supported by France and Germany. Other countries, such as the UK, Italy and Japan, are also collaborating on a fighter program called Tempest. These initiatives are aimed at replacing the Rafales.
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