Eurofighter, Rafale or Neither for UAE?

 - November 14, 2011, 11:13 AM
French air force commander Jean-Paul Palomeros said the Dassault Rafale still has a good chance in the UAE fighter jet competition.

Has the Eurofighter Typhoon really unseated Dassault’s Rafale as the UAE Air Force’s fighter-of-choice for a 60-plane order? After last week’s leak that the Typhoon team has received a surprise request for proposal (RFP) that would effectively re-open the contest, the French have maintained a certain insouciance after their top brass met the Emirati hierarchy here at the Dubai Air Show on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Americans know nothing about a formal RFP being issued, leaving observers to speculate that the two-page request for the Typhoon issued to the UK last week will serve only as a stalking horse, as negotiations for the Rafale continue, or even conclude successfully.

The French delegation to the Sunday meeting included defense minister Gerard Longuet and Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Edouard Guillard. French air force commander Jean-Paul Palomeros subsequently told AIN: “The Rafale is our fifth-generation fighter, and we are eager to share this future with the UAE.” He added that, “Discussions are going well, and they are happy with what they see.” Longuet was quoted here yesterday as remaining confident that the UAE would sign for the Rafale by the end of the year. Dassault refused to comment on the negotiations.

According to Palomeros, the UAE’s earlier concern that the Rafale’s two Snecma M88 turbofan engines were not powerful enough had been overcome. Two years ago, Dassault told AIN that the Rafale has demonstrated that it could take off from a hot Al Dhafra airbase here with a full long-range strike combat mission load (two Scalp ASMs and three fuel tanks), with the existing 17,000-pound-thrust engines. Palomeros said the negotiations are now about the cost of maintenance and manpower. The French defense ministry has also been negotiating a costed, long-term support contract with Snecma for the M88.

The French have been reluctant to fund some other upgrades to the Rafale that were sought by the UAE. But Palomeros said, “We would like to achieve a common standard, and invest in new capabilities.” He mentioned systems (the UAE has sought additional radar modes), electronic warfare and, especially, communications. “They are not buying an aircraft, they are buying a system, and France is a real partner,” he added.

There is no indication that the UAE has decided to widen its search for a new fighter to U.S. candidates, notably the F-15 and the F-18, on which it previously received classified briefings. Eurofighter said that it received an RFP after giving a formal briefing on the Typhoon to the UAE last month. It was “working hard to deliver a response.”

In addition to the Typhoon model painted in the colors of the UAE aerobatic team, the Eurofighter pavilion here also features a full-scale model of the MBDA Marte ER (extended range) anti-ship missile. This turbojet-powered weapon has not previously been associated with the Typhoon, and is not scheduled for integration by the four partner nations.

MBDA unveiled the Marte ER two years ago as a helicopter-borne weapon with two rocket boosters for launch. They are deleted from the possible Typhoon-launched version, which AIN understands has been proposed to India as an alternative to the Saab Rbs15 that is Eurofighter’s baseline proposal to meet the anti-ship requirement in the MMRCA competition. It is not known whether the UAE requires an anti-ship missile on its new fighter, but the latest version of Rafale can already be equipped with the AM39 Exocet Block 2.