The saga of the UAE’s new fighter procurement took another turn Wednesday when the Emirates’ top decision-maker on defense contracts described Dassault’s offer for the Rafale as “uncompetitive and unworkable.” In an unprecedented public comment, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed was quoted by the UAE’s official news agency WAM: “Thanks to French President Sarkozy, France could not have done more diplomatically or politically to secure the Rafale deal. Bilateral relations have never been stronger and his constant personal intervention in this process has sustained Dassault at the forefront of our considerations. Regrettably Dassault seems unaware that all the diplomatic and political will in the world cannot overcome uncompetitive and unworkable commercial terms.”
The Crown Prince, who is also Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, was touring the Dubai Air Show. The show had opened to news, leaked by British sources, that the UAE had invited the Eurofighter consortium to make a counter-bid to the Rafale. During the past three years, the UAE has been conducting sporadic negotiations with the French for a 60-aircraft buy. During the show, top French defense officials sought clarification from the UAE hierarchy, and emerged to tell journalists that all was going well. But Dassault officials kept quiet–with good reason, it now appears.
Rivalry between the Eurofighter and Rafale has reached fever pitch, with India slated to choose soon between the two fighters for a 126-aircraft deal now valued at $20 billion. The same rivals, together with the Saab Gripen, are vying for a 20- to 30-airplane order from Switzerland. Having recently revived its fighter competition because of a favorable exchange rate, Switzerland may nominate a winner within weeks.