The United Arab Emirates is France’s best bet in the short term for clinching an export deal for Dassault Aviation’s Rafale fighter jet, French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet has said.
The French company has still not found a foreign buyer for the multi-role Rafale, billed as one of the most effective but also one of the most expensive fighter jets in the world.
The aircraft-maker had come close to securing a multi-billion-dollar deal with Brazil, but the Brazilian government has delayed its decision until 2012 and President Dilma Lousseff looks to be favoring rival Boeing’s F-18.
India has shortlisted the Rafale along with Eurofighter’s Typhoon for a 126-jet deal and talks are ongoing, although Mr. Longuet appeared to suggest they may have hit a snag.
“Some countries have budget problems, as in Brazil’s case. They may also have political problems, as in India’s case. That leaves the Emirates and talks are advanced,” Mr. Longuet told reporters in Paris.
The minister said the UAE was no longer demanding a more powerful engine, previously a condition for a deal, and said he thought Rafale airstrikes in Libya had helped sway the Emirati government.
“The operational and multi-role capacities of the Rafale are being proven on a daily basis with these strikes,” he said.
“The Libyan conflict is a clear demonstration that the current engine capacity is sufficient.”
The UAE has been in talks with Dassault since 2008 over the purchase of 60 Rafale jets, estimated at 10 billion dollars, to replace their fleet of Mirage 2000s which they bought in 1983.
Talks with Brazil have been going on for years, and Dassault came close to a deal with former president Luis Ignacio da Silva. But that was thrown into doubt by his successor President Dilma Roussef who demanded a review of all finalists’ bids when she took office at the start of 2011.
Last week, Brazilian Defence Minister Nelson Jobim said the government would not re-examine bids until the start of 2012 as it needed to focus on its domestic agenda.
“The Rafale hasn’t been ruled out but that decision isn’t President Dilma Roussef’s main priority at the moment,” Mr. Longuet told reporters in Paris.
Regarding the Indian talks, Mr. Longuet said he was confident the government preferred the Rafale and that the final decision would be technical rather than political.
“Things seem to look good,” he said, adding that in India’s case too Libya had also had a positive effect.