PARIS — The French aeronautics industry is seeing a big increase in service support for the M88 military engine, reflecting higher-than-expected flight hours on the Rafale fighter jet and recent export sales, said Emmanuel Viellard, chairman of the aeronautics and defense equipment office of the trade association Groupment des Industries Françaises Aéronautiques et Spatiales.
“The flight hours are much higher than expected and there is a significant effort in maintenance,” Viellard said Thursday at the GIFAS annual press conference.
Work on the Snecma M88 motor is on a climb because France is flying an active Chammal air campaign over Iraq and Syria, and has won export contracts from Egypt and Qatar. Snecma is a unit of the Safran group.
Dassault Aviation has been negotiating with some 500 subcontractors over an increase in production to three Rafales per month by 2018 or 2019, compared with the present one per month, following the foreign sales signed and prospects of two more export wins.
There is no problem for suppliers to boost production of the Rafale as the contracts already are in place and industrial capacity is there, Viellard said.
“The whole supply chain is ready to support this effort,” he said. “We have the targets to meet to increase the production rate.” There will be spares to be supplied for the motors on the export planes.
“We are in the process of organizing support for the services and the export countries,” a Snecma spokeswoman said.
The French Air Force fired 12 Scalp cruise missiles during two recent airstrikes, a spokesman for the service said.
The first use of the long-range weapon was Dec. 15, a first since France launched the Chammal mission in September 2014 and the first since the Libyan air campaign in 2011. A second firing of Scalp came on Jan. 2.
France fired 15 Scalp missiles in the Libyan operation, with French media then reporting high unit cost of the weapons and a request for a more selective and restrained use.
With a recent government decision to reduce the stock of Scalp missiles to 100 units to lower costs, the service may have had reason to fire the weapons rather than reduce the inventory, an industry executive said.
France ordered 500 Scalp missiles, 450 for the Air Force and 50 for the Navy, with the latter flying the Rafale from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited the carrier Dec. 19, when French Navy Adm. René-Jean Crignola took command of the coalition Task Force 50 naval group. The carrier is part of the Chammal mission.
GIFAS Chairman Marwan Lahoud said 18 months was needed to build a Scalp weapon. Industry, whether it was European manufacturer MBDA or those in the US or Russia, could not produce bombs, missiles or helicopters at a moment’s notice, he said.
“From an industrial aspect, what the services have in stock is what they have ordered,” he said. “What they have in stock cannot be produced out of thin air. Production time cannot be shortened.”
On the operational side, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were on the whole satisfied with the performance of the equipment, he said.
“I say ‘on the whole’ because there is always something which does not work,” he said. “That’s normal. That’s war. The zero defect has never existed, never will exist, as long as there are operations.”