France will about halve its purchases of Dassault Rafale fighter jet planes over the next six years and is counting on clinching the first sales abroad to keep production lines going, according to a defense budget released Aug. 2. (Boris Horvat / AFP)
PARIS — France will about halve its purchases of Dassault Rafale fighter jet planes over the next six years, under defense estimates Friday, and is counting on at last clinching the first sales abroad to keep production lines going.
French officials say that among potential clients are India, Qatar, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil.
The government, struggling to curb public spending, also made clear that there will be no change to the French independent nuclear deterrent, which successive governments have treated as a vital issue of national defense.
Dassault Aviation, which builds the Rafale fighters, used to high-profile effect in fighting in Libya and Mali, was to supply 11 planes a year to the French defense forces.
This was intended to ensure an essential minimum amount of work for production lines while France tries to achieve the first sales of the aircraft abroad.
But the government, which is struggling to meet commitments to the European Union and to retain investor confidence by getting its public deficit under control, is crimping public expenditures, including defense spending.
Under the draft defense estimates put before the cabinet Friday, the left-wing government will acquire only 26 of the planes during the next six years.
Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said June 11 that from 2016, Dassault Aviation would have to count on exports to underpin production of the plane, which is able to fulfil several types of missions.
On Friday, the minister said on Europe 1 radio: “There are countries which today are really interested in buying the Rafale; I am thinking particularly of India, Qatar, of other countries, and I am very confident of the chances of exporting the Rafale in coming months.”
France was in exclusive negotiations to sell 126 Rafale planes to India, “and I have high hopes that this will be successful,” he said.
Sources close to the minister said the estimates were based in part on a hypothesis that at least one country among other potential buyers would place an order before the end of 2019.
These countries are Malaysia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Brazil.
An adviser to the minister said the government was not changing its overall order for 180 Rafale planes, of which a total of 120 will have been delivered within the next few months, and it could place another set of orders.
During the period covered by the estimates, Dassault would receive hundreds of millions of euros to design a pilotless combat drone by 2030 in cooperation with British aerospace group BAE Systems, and also to develop the Rafale to meet new standards, under a program called F3-R.
The ministry’s objective is to underpin nine big defense industry activities, ranging from aerospace to communications and submarines. To achieve this, orders are being stretched out over time.
Le Drian, in separate remarks to broadcaster France 2, said there would be no changes to the French nuclear deterrence capability.
The two components of the French independent deterrence, based on submarines and airborne, would be maintained.
“The President of the Republic (Francois Hollande) has decided to maintain the two components, and they will be maintained,” he said.
The minister said that they were “indispensable because the second component (airborne) provides agility, the capacity for rapid reaction in a world where proliferation (of nuclear capability) is continuing and in which France must keep this ultimate security, this fundamental guarantee, which is deterrence.”
The minister criticized the defense minister in the previous right-wing government, Herve Morin, for suggesting that one of the two components could be axed to save money.
However, Morin repeated his criticism in a statement Friday, saying the government was “fooling the defense forces and French people that France is still one of the four global military forces on the planet when in reality it no longer has the means, unfortunately.”