PARIS — Qatar has exercised an option to acquire more Rafale fighter jets and signed a letter of intent to order VBCI infantry fighting vehicles, the French Armed Forces Ministry said Thursday.
“The Armed Forces Minister, Florence Parly, welcomes the readiness shown by Qatar to acquire further Rafale,” the ministry said in a statement. “She also welcomes the signing of a letter of intent to acquire VBCI armored vehicles, selected in the Qatari competition.”
That order stems from Qatar exercising an option for 12 Rafale fighters, boosting its acquisition to 36, based on a contract signed May 2015, Dassault Aviation said in a statement.
The fresh Rafale order was worth €1.1 billion (U.S. $1.3 billion), daily Le Monde reported. Qatar also signed for an option for a further 36 of the twin-jet fighters.
The Rafale fighters will be equipped with Lockheed Martin Sniper laser targeting pods. Additionally, they will be stripped of the capability to deliver nuclear weapons and will also lose NATO standard communications capabilities that were fitted for the French Air Force and Navy.
The letter of intent for the VBCI covers 490 units from Nexter, which is worth at least €1.5 billion and could rise to €3.2 billion depending on the pick of weapons, the report said. A contract could be signed in 2018, securing the first export deal for the 30-ton, eight-wheel drive vehicle.
“We welcome the letter of intent,” a Nexter spokeswoman said.
Qatar’s addition to its Rafale fleet follows an agreement with the U.K. to order 24 Eurofighter Typhoons and six Hawks, as well as a $12 billion order for Boeing F-15QA fighters.
BAE Systems has completed negotiations on the Typhoons and Hawks and all that remains is to pick a date for signing contracts, Chris Boardman, managing director of BAE Systems’ military air and information business, told the British Parliament’s Defence Select Committee on Nov. 28.
The 2015 contract for 24 Rafale fighters was worth €6.3 billion and included MBDA Meteor long-range and Scalp cruise missiles.
The arms order highlights political rather than military significance, said Jean-Pierre Maulny, deputy director of the think tank Institut des Relations Internationales et Strategiques. “Qatar shows how much it appreciates the support of France, U.K. and the U.S. against Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Those weapons deals are part of the need to keep allies close, as Qatar seeks to secure international support in its tense relations with Saudi Arabia, he added.
“Buying defense equipment is political,” according to Sash Tusa, an analyst with equity research firm Agency Partners. “They’re spending money on Western equipment to get and keep friends against Saudi Arabia.”
Paying for the equipment posed no problem, as Qatar had ample financial resources.
The Qatari deals were signed while French President Emmanuel Macron and Parly visited the Gulf state.
“Exports are vital to our defense industry and the equipment of our armed forces,” the French Armed Forces Ministry said. “They contribute to strategic autonomy and our country’s influence. Florence Parly is fully committed to helping the President of the Republic ensure the success of French arms exports.”
Parly received a visit from her Qatari counterpart at the end of November to discuss in detail the deals, which were the subject of intense negotiations with Dassault and Nexter, the ministry said. The minister discussed other weapons and worked on a letter of intent on the status of French forces in Qatar and Qatari forces in France.
All these subjects were again discussed at the minister’s request in a Dec. 6 phone call to reach an agreement in time for the presidential visit, the ministry said.
“This new order follows on from the contract signed on 4 May 2015 between the state of Qatar and Dassault Aviation for the acquisition of 24 Rafale, thus raising the number of Rafale aircraft operated by the Qatar Emiri Air Force to 36,” the company said in a statement.
The latest order showed Qatar “restating their confidence in the qualities of the Rafale and expressing their satisfaction with the performance of the main contract,” the company said.
The French ministry assumed €4 billion of Rafale exports when the present multiyear defense budget was drafted, the previous procurement chief, Laurent Collet-Billon, had said. Big domestic programs would have been delayed in the absence of foreign deals.
It took about a year for Qatar to raise an international bank loan to place a 15 percent deposit on its 2015 order for the initial 24 Rafale fighter jets and missiles.
There was no news on negotiations for a planned order of 22 Airbus Helicopters NH90 military transport helicopters, Le Monde reported. The weapons were part of a €11.1 billion package of Qatari projects announced on Macron’s visit, with deals for the underground rail system and Airbus passenger jets. Qatar modified a previous order for 50 Airbus A320 airliners to the A321 Neo, worth €5.5 billion.
In June, Saudia Arabia cut all diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar, stating that the steps were taken to protect the kingdom from what it described as terrorism and extremism.