Four Rafale fighters from the French Air Force have completed a month-long deployment to the U.S., where they conducted a squadron exchange at Luke AFB and then took part in a Red Flag exercise at Nellis AFB. According to Dassault, no shootdowns were scored against the Rafale during the 10-day exercise, and American observers were particularly impressed with the accuracy of the fighter’s Sagem AASM “smart” bombs. Meanwhile, another Rafale is currently in Switzerland for flight evaluations in connection with that country’s choice of a new fighter. The Saab Gripen and the Eurofighter Typhoon are also being evaluated, but the French aircraft’s proven multirole capability could make it the winner, especially since the Swiss want to resume air to ground and reconnaissance missions.
The production rate of the Rafale is currently 1.25 aircraft per month, since no export orders have yet been confirmed. Libya and the U.A.E. have both stated an intention to purchase, and discussions continue. AIN has been told that the bilateral defense pact between France and the U.A.E. will result in a French Air Force Mirage 2000-5 interceptor squadron being permanently assigned to Al Dhafra airbase. In 2013 this squadron will re-equip with more modern and later-production Mirage 2000-9s that will be transferred from the U.A.E. Air Force. Rafales will replace these Mirages in the U.A.E. Air Force.
Team Rafale declined to make an offer to Norway, believing that selection of the F-35 is still a foregone conclusion there. But the Rafale is a contender for new fighter requirements in Greece and India. Until export orders are firmed up, however, the Rafale production rate is likely to drop to one per month. The French Defense White Paper that was released last June implied that the total French requirement for the Rafale would be reduced from the long-established goal of 294 aircraft to about 250. But Dassault spokesmen told AIN that nothing would be confirmed until a new “Loi de Programme” procurement ruling was issued, probably in January.