The $10 billion-plus contract to sell 126 Rafale combat jets to India will be completed by the end of the year. That was the confident prediction of Eric Trappier, Dassault Aviation president and director-general, at an eve-of-show press conference. Since India selected the French combat jet in January 2012, negotiations have dragged on, with thorny issues of local partnerships, offsets and liabilities unresolved. Trappier would not discuss the details, but admitted that it had been “an uphill task.” However, he did confirm that the option for a further 63 aircraft was under active discussion.
Dassault (Chalet B183 Static P54 b ) has identified Canada as another significant prospect, following that country’s decision to review its commitment to the F-35. “We are answering their questions. They saw the Rafale in operation first-hand over Afghanistan and Libya, as part of the NATO coalition,” Trappier said. “The F-35 has its problems, including price. The Canadians also have questions about its schedule and cost of operation,” he added. But Trappier is not particularly interested in Denmark, another F-35 partner that is having second thoughts. “There seems to be a ‘Buy American Act’ in force in Europe,” he remarked, noting that The Netherlands had flirted with alternatives, before confirming the F-35 after all.
Dassault is careful with its marketing budget, so it is somewhat surprising to see the company expend a serious effort in Malaysia. Two French air force Rafales made the long journey to the LIMA show in Langkawi last March. Indonesia has talked of replacing its 24 MiG-29Ns but has not issued a formal requirement. It already operates two other combat jets, the Boeing F-18C/D and the Sukhoi Su-30MK. Yet Trappier even talked of setting up a production line there, if the Malaysians so wish and are willing to pay. “Tech transfer is a big advantage for us. We’ve linked with a couple of Malaysian companies,” he noted.
What of Brazil’s long-running F-X competition? “It’s asleep, by the President’s decision,” was Trappier’s verdict. That’s not necessarily bad news for the French airframer, since production of the Rafale is assured for some years to come, at the current low rate of 11 per annum. In Brazil, we have an advantage in waiting,” Trappier added.
The French have ordered a total of 180 Rafales, against a formal requirement of 294. Of these, 118 have been delivered. But that total is in the process of being cut. The recent French defense white paper specified a future total of 225 combat aircraft including, for the time being at least, some upgraded Mirage 2000Ds. According to Trappier, Rafales will eventually replace those aircraft, to achieve an all-Rafale fleet. Visitors to the Paris Air Show can see both air force and navy examples of the Rafale in the static display, suitably armed, plus a daily flying display.
Since Dassault is withholding all details on its super midsize (SMS) business jet until the NBAA show in October, the company’s other big deal at the Paris Air Show is the debut of the Neuron UCAV. This is a pan-European project, with Dassault acting as prime contractor. Trappier said that the Neuron had proved the French ability to work with partners, which will be the future for this class of warplane. For the past 10 months, Dassault has been studying a follow-on UCAV with BAE Systems in the UK. The Future Combat Air System (FCAS) study is due to be completed by the end of the year. If the British and French governments agree, the next stage would be project definition and demonstration, Trappier said.
As for the long struggle to launch a European medium altitude long endurance UAV, Trappier revealed that Dassault has talked recently to both EADS and Finmeccanica. This follows the failure of the French government to conclude a second agreement with the British last year, to cover this class of unmanned system. Dassault was set to embrace BAE’s Mantis project, rebranded as the Telemos.
Dassault is displaying three Falcon business jets here, the 7X, 900LX and 2000S. Sales of the Falcon series have been slow recently, Trappier admitted, but there are signs of an upturn in the U.S. market at least. Dassault is also marketing the maritime reconnaissance version of the Falcon 2000 here at Paris, both to the French Navy and for export.
But don’t be misled by Dassault’s display of supersonic travel concepts during the briefing. It is not about to revive the SSBJ project. “We don’t have a business plan…it would need an all-new engine…the governments would probably not allow it anyway, on environmental grounds. But our engineers have lots of ideas, and we like to keep our options open,” Trappier explained.