Dassault Aviation received a development contract from the French Ministry of Defense for a further upgrade of the Rafale combat aircraft. Designated “F3 R,” the upgrade consists mainly of integration of the MBDA Meteor BVRAAM; the laser-homing version of the Sagem AASM air-ground weapon; and the new Thales PDL-NG laser designator pod. There will also be some improvements to the Rafale’s avionics and defensive systems.
The contract is reported to be worth about €1 billion ($1.35 billion), including $68 million to MBDA for the Meteor integration and $160 million to Thales for the PDL-NG development. A prototype of this new all-weather, day/night pod is scheduled to fly in 2016. The F3 R development work will be completed in 2018.
Dassault said that the launch of the F 3R standard “guarantees that French forces will continue to have a high-performance aircraft adapted to their requirements, and reinforces the strong points of the Rafale in export competitions.” The latest French defense procurement plan reduces the number of Rafales to be bought annually from 2016, as a cost-saving measure, in the hope that exports will restore the total to the minimum economic number—which appears to be 11 per year. Dassault chairman and ceo Eric Trappier told Les Echos newspaper that this plan would be revisited in 2015, if no exports were forthcoming by then. A hundred Rafales were yet to be delivered to the French air force and navy, he noted.
Sales campaigns for the Rafale continue in Malaysia and the Gulf, but Brazil recently rejected the aircraft in favor of the lower-cost Saab Gripen. That leaves India, where negotiations to conclude the MMRCA deal have dragged on for two years. Trappier told French financial newspaper Les Echos that they were complex, especially concerning “the licensed production of virtually all components of the aircraft.” If the outgoing Indian government does not sign the contract soon, the deal would likely not be concluded until late this year, Trappier added. The Eurofighter consortium has suggested in briefings that India might reopen the contest, but Trappier downplayed that possibility, noting how much effort the Indians had already expended on the procurement.