France has managed to position in recent years its fighter plane Rafale in several Middle Eastern countries with sales to Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. It sold 80 fighters to the latter country in a large operation closed in 2021. In Europe, Croatia and Greece have also become Rafale customers in recent years. In Asia, Indonesia has placed an order for 42 units while India – which already has 32 French fighters in its air force – is willing to acquire 26 aircraft of the Rafale naval version for aircraft carriers. The increase in orders has caused Dassault Aviation’s industrial facilities to be modified to build three aircraft a month in its workshops instead of the current two, reports Avions Legendaires.
Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan also want to replace their aging Soviet fighter fleets without going to the United States and Russian markets, which is why the Rafale have become a good option, according to aviation experts. Kazakhstan is Russia’s second ally and maintains a military alliance with Moscow. If you finally end up buying the French planes, it is not ruled out that one day the Rafale could fly alongside the Sukhoi of Russian origin. The Kazakh Air Force has a modern fleet of combat aircraft, the most advanced of which is the Su-30SM. It acquired 23 of these aircraft in several deliveries between 2015 and 2022, reports the French media Capital.
The case of Uzbekistan is similar. This country wants to replace its old Soviet fighters MiG-29 and Su-27 by new generation fighter aircraft. The Government has evaluated the KAI FA-50 aircraft from South Korea, but a purchase of this type would be very poorly received by Russia, which is, like Kazakhstan, a key ally. Therefore, adds the aforementioned French media, the French defense giant would be in a good position to obtain a sales contract for 24 Rafales.
But the most ambitious operation in the short term is the possible sale to Saudi Arabia. This country has already started talks with the French multinational to buy 54 multipurpose fighters Dassault Rafale, considered the flagship of French military aeronautics. The information, confirmed by the French company itself, is a serious blow to the European competitor Eurofighter, made up of four countries (United Kingdom, Spain, Germany and Italy).
Saudi interest is mainly related to Riyadh’s difficulties in obtaining 48 Eurofighters, an operation blocked by Germany, which has frozen its arms exports to the Wahhabi kingdom in recent years in reaction to the war in Yemen and the murder of the Saudi journalist. Jamal Khashoggi. As Eurofighter is a multinational company, decisions have to be made unanimously by its four member countries. United Kingdom has lobbied Germany to authorize the sale and the matter has been discussed by British Prime Minister Rushi Sunak and the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally relied on US aircraft (Boeing F-15) and United Kingdom (Tornado and Eurofighter), but if Berlin does not change its position, it is likely that the Arabian monarchy will end up buying Dassault planes. The Eurofighter is the main revenue driver of Airbus Defense and Space, the group’s second division with 11.2 billion euros. Faury said the German decision had “very negative consequences.”
In France caution rules. They remember in this sense that in the 80s, Riyadh showed Paris its interest in the Mirage 2000, but they finally bought the Tornado. The same thing happened in 2000, when Riyadh opted for the Eurofighter, despite an alleged interest in the Rafale. The current production version of the Rafale is the F4, but Dassault is already developing the F5 version with the aim of inducting it into the French Air Force in 2030.
Considered one of the most efficient combat aircraft in the world, the Rafale seems to represent the aircraft of the “non-aligned”, writes “Air&Cosmos”, which ensures that with its latest version of the F4 standard, the Rafale offers greater attack power. Capable of reaching Mach 1.8 (2,222 km/h), the fighter aircraft can attack aerial targets, support ground troops and strike targets behind enemy lines, while carrying conventional payloads.
Due to these characteristics, the French fighter has become an option for Riyadh, which maintains a armed conflict with Iran in Yemen, where Tehran supports the Houthi rebels. Both regional powers fight indirectly for control of Yemen and have dedicated huge amounts of money to finance the purchase of weapons for both sides. Riyadh has hinted in the past at its intention to acquire the atomic bomb if Tehran finally completes the development of its military nuclear technology.
What is Saudi Arabia’s air fleet like?
Currently, Saudi Arabia already has a huge multinational fleet of advanced fourth-generation fighters, including the Rafale, the Boeing F-15SA and the Eurofighter Typhoon. It purchased 84 newly built F-15SAs from the United States, the most advanced variant of the Strike Eagle family. Meanwhile, its aging fleet of 68 F-15S aircraft is being upgraded. In addition, the Royal Saudi Air Force has 72 Eurofighter Typhoons. Finally, its inventory has about 80 swing-wing attack aircraft. Panavia Tornado, which will presumably be replaced by the Rafaels that Riyadh now wants to buy.