French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C) attends the opening of the International Defence Exhibition and Conference (IDEX) at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre in the Emirati capital on February 17, 2013. A top French defence industry official said that talks to sell Rafale jet fighters to the UAE were "progressing well", expressing confidence that a deal could be reached with the Gulf state. AFP PHOTO/KARIM SAHIB (Photo credit should read KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images)
PARIS — The United Arab Emirates has restarted talks on ordering the Dassault Rafale, with a planned major upgrade of the fighter jet in contrast to the off-the-shelf deals for Egypt and India, said an Arabian Gulf official source familiar with the issue.
"Yes, there are renewed discussions," the gulf source said April March 14. The talks could take some time "to reach an understanding" that meets the needs of the UAE Air Force, the source said.
France has been in talks for more than five years on a sale of 60 Rafales, with the UAE requiring service holding specific requirements aimed at flying a more capable fighter with and extensive weapons suite. The Rafale would replace the fleet of Mirage 2000-9s.
The fresh talks are looking at requirements rather than reviving discussions for 60 Rafales and it is too early to say how many aircraft would be purchased for how much, and the budget, .
The UAE is seen a potential buyer after Egypt sealed a deal for 24 Rafales and India announced a plan to order 36 off the assembly line in France.
"There are discussions going on with the Emirates, they are going in the right direction," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told journalists at the April 16 the Anglo-American Press Association on April 16.
France is pursuing pursues an "economics diplomacy," he said. "The president, prime minister, defense minister and myself — we work very closely together." That approach was applied generally and to the Rafale specifically, he said.
Fabius said he met UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed al-Nahyan during a trip to Saudi Arabia on the weekend of April 11-12, confirming a report by daily Le Monde. "There is a French saying — all things come in threes," the French minister said, referring to the Rafale deals with Egypt and India, the report said.
Dassault Aviation Chairman Eric Trappier said on March 11 that the French company was back in talks with the UAE, but that these were not contract negotiations.
The UAE is in talks with the US to order 30 of the Block 61 version of the Lockheed Martin F-16s, which would add to the 80-strong fleet of Block 60 fighters, Reuters has reported.
Executives at the International Defence Exhibition IDEX trade show in Abu Dhabi in February noted the UAE crown prince spent an hour behind closed doors at the Dassault stand on the opening day. The UAE had helped fund Egypt's purchase of the Rafale, but it was also likely that they spoke there was talk about the fighters for the gulf state's own Air Force, the executives said.
The UAE Air Force has previously focused on an upgrade of the systems and engine of the Rafale, including active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, frontal sector optronic and an electronic warfare suite, systems supplied by Thales, and a 9-ton-thrust M88 engine, uprated from the 7.5-ton engine that powers the French Air Force and Navy fighters.
French industry has said the 2011 Libya air campaign showed there was no need for a higher engine thrust on the Rafale.
News, the Rafale blog, ran in 2011 a story from weekly magazine Air & Cosmos which reported tThe potential UAE version, dubbed M88-9, could deliver nine tons of thrust by "increasing the entering airflow from 65 kg/s to 72 kg/s and the compression rate from 24.5 to 27," according to News, the Rafale blog, which in 2011 ran a story from weekly magazine Air & Cosmos.
That would require the air intake to be enlarged, a costly "structural modification" that which had been a stumbling block in talks with the UAE, the 2011 report said.
On Dec. 30, France launched on Dec. 30 a program worth some €1 billion billon (US $1.06 billion) to upgrade the Rafale F3 to the F3R standard by 2018. The new version will fire the MBDA Meteor long-range air-to-air missile, a laser version of the Sagem Armement Air Sol Modulaire (AASM) powered smart bomb, and carry a Thales new-generation laser targeting pod, dubbed Talios, to succeed the present Damocles. The AESA RBE2 radar and Spectra electronic warfare system will also be improved.
Egypt will receive the F3R version, Trappier said.
Thales co-developed the Damocles pod under the name Shehab for the UAE Air Force's Mirage 2000-9.
The UAE had been putting pressure on France to fund a co-development of an upgraded targeting pod and considered buying the Lockheed Martin Sniper as an alternative, business daily Les Echos reported in November 2011.
Abu Dhabi had agreed with then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy to consider the Rafale as a replacement to the fleet of Mirage 2000-9s bought in 1998.
Fabius said there are also discussions on the Rafale with Qatar.
"But sometimes these discussions are long, sometimes they speed up — which we saw in Egypt — sometimes they are brief," Fabius said.
"It depends on the overall situation, depends on the country's needs – the aircraft is the same but sometimes they ask for different specifications. There are discussions going on with Qatar and other countries," he said.
Qatar is now seen as slipping down on the list of prospective Rafale buyers after having been as near the top, a parliamentary official said. Negotiations for an order of from Doha for 24 fighters and an option for a further 12 was reported in February to be in the final stage.
Trappier declined to comment when asked about Qatar at the company's annual results press conference on March 11.
The arms sales can be seen as reflecting a sharp and deadly shift in the region, with the fighting in Yemen being a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the parliamentary official said.
Iraq, Syria and Libya are nations in armed turmoil. Russia has canceled an embargo and will deliver the S-300, a sophisticated surface-to-air missile, to Iran. The US has warned that delivering the weapon may hurt the Western agreement to lift sanctions against Tehran. Teheran.
In Europe last year, Dassault, Snecma and Thales opened last year the Rafale team's office in Brussels, to bid in the Belgian tender for a replacement of the F-16, the 7 sur 7 news website reported.
The Rafale team will pitch the F3R model against the Lockheed Martin F-35, Boeing F/A-18 E/F, Eurofighter Typhoon, and Saab JAS-39 Gripen in the Belgian Defense - Air Combat Capability (ACCap) Successor Program, the report said.