Dassault aims to seal €8bn contract with UAE

Officials from Dassault Aviation are optimistic a three-year campaign to sell the UAE 60 new Rafale fighter jets would be concluded.

Talks between the French firm Dassault Aviation and the UAE over the fighter plane Rafale were reportedly frozen last year. Above, the chairman ofDassault Aviation, Charles Edelstenne, right, and Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, a French minister of state, inspect a Rafale in Paris in 2009. Pierre Verdy / AFP

Dassault Aviation hopes to seal a proposed order for 60 of its Rafale fighter jets with the UAE worth up to €8 billion (Dh42.34bn), despite reports claiming engine specifications were a major sticking point.
The ongoing sales campaign is now in its third year of negotiations and has been one of the most closely watched aerospace developments in the Gulf, especially by rival fighter jet manufacturers in Europe and the US.
Charles Edelstenne, the chairman and chief executive of Dassault Aviation, said he was "always hopeful" of a deal with the UAE Air Force and Air Defence, which has been operating Dassault aircraft since 1974.
"I hope they will say yes," he told a visiting UAE media delegation.
Talks between the French firm and the UAE over the Rafale, a multi-role jet designed to be a one-stop solution for military fighter aircraft needs, began in 2008.
But the discussions were reportedly frozen last year amid concerns over the cost of upgrades.
The UAE has a history of customising fighter jets to adapt to the hot and humid flying conditions of the Gulf and had asked Dassault for more powerful engines, longer-range radar systems and upgraded electronic warfare suites than the version of the Rafale in service with the French Air Force and Navy.
The developmental costs related to the upgrades were estimated to add US$2.6bn (Dh9.55bn) to $4bn to the final price tag for the UAE.
Speculation the UAE might consider other options began to grow last year after officials from Boeing acknowledged they had provided technical information to the UAE on its F-18 fighter jet, while the UAE Armed Forces also received a briefing on the Eurofighter, said officials from the pan-European fighter jet consortium behind the aircraft.
The costs associated with boosting the Rafale's engine power by 21 per cent have been the most high-profile upgrade, but Eric Trappier, the executive vice president of international business for Dassault Aviation, said the new engine would cost less than $1bn to develop. "It is not an issue" in the sales campaign, he said.
The costs would be mainly borne by the UAE and the France, which would also benefit from upgraded features, Mr Edelstenne said.
"This aircraft is able to evolve over time and it will be upgraded," he said. "You don't need to have all the additional functionalities at once."
In December, French government officials said the Rafale talks were resuming after a December meeting in Paris between Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
A sale to the Emirates would be a vital boost for Dassault, whose last export delivery was to India in 2007 for an older model Mirage jet.
The Rafale has not yet been sold to any foreign government although it is also being considered by Brazil, Switzerland and India.
igale@thenational.ae