Dubai Airshow

Fighter Jet Competitions Still Up in the Air at Dubai 2011

 - November 12, 2011, 7:36 AM
A knowledgeable British source told AIN that the Emiratis will now hold a formal competition for new fighter jets, and had just issued a request for proposals (RfP) to the UK government for the Eurofighter Typhoon.

French hopes of an early order for Rafale fighters from the United Arab Emirates Air Force may have been dashed. A British source with knowledge of the requirement has told AIN that the Emiratis will now hold a formal competition, and had just issued a request for proposals (RfP) to the UK government for the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s future fighter intentions are also unclear. The UK and the Kingdom have made only slow progress in executing the $7 billion Al Salam contract for 72 Eurofighters. Furthermore, Riyadh has not yet confirmed last year's U.S. offer to supply another 84 Boeing F-15 Strike Eagles.

Here in the UAE, Dassault and its partners have been pursuing the sale of the Rafale for over three years. The all-French combat jet would replace a similar number of Dassault Mirage 2000-9 fighters.

Half of the UAE’s Mirage fleet is nearly 30 years old. In 2009-10, the talks were reported to have been snagged by the country’s desire for more powerful engines, a helmet-mounted display, an electronic warfare upgrade, and an upgrade to the Rafale’s new AESA radar to provide more range and additional modes. France baulked at paying several hundred million Euros to develop these upgrades, since the French Air Force and Navy did not yet require them. The UAE was also expecting France to take back the UAE Mirage 2000 fleet in part-exchange.

Last September, French newspaper Les Echos reported that a team led by Dassault had returned to Abu Dhabi at the request of the UAE, bringing a firm technical and commercial offer. In mid-October, French defense minister Gerard Longuet said that negotiations had reached a final stage. The chances of agreeing a contract by the end of the year were strong, he added.

Boeing officials told AIN that the UAE requested and received classified briefings from the US government on the F-15 Strike Eagle and the F/A-18 Super Hornet last February. But when contacted yesterday, they had no knowledge of a formal RfP. Riad Kahwaji, CEO of local defense think-tank INEGMA, said that the UAE might consider a re-order for Lockheed Martin F-16s. The British source said that the UAE requirement was for 60 aircraft to be delivered from 2017.

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) made a late decision to boost the Typhoon here; it added two Typhoons to the air show that were previously scheduled to return direct to the UK from the recent Air Tactical Leadership Course at Al Dhafra airbase, UAE. In addition, Air Chief Marshall Sir Stephen Dalton, chief of the UK air staff, was a late addition to the program at yesterday’s Air Chiefs Conference.


Saudi Negotiations 

Negotiations between the Saudi Arabia and UK governments over the supply of 72 Eurofighters began in early 2006 and reached a conclusion in September 2007. The first 24 aircraft were assembled, flown and delivered to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) from BAE’s Warton factory during the past two years. The remainder were to be produced under licence in the Kingdom.

BAE Systems built a big new facility at Dhahran airbase for the purpose. Depot maintenance of the RSAF’s BAE Tornado fleet has been transferred to there from Riyadh. But instead of being shipped to Dhahran, AIN understands that major subassemblies for at least the next seven Typhoons have gone into storage at Warton. “The Saudi Arabian government is considering options for the assembly of the final 48 aircraft,” a spokesman for the UK Ministry of Defence told AIN.

Meanwhile, in October last year, the U.S. government notified Congress of the huge Strike Eagle package. Worth no less than $29.5 billion, it included an upgrade to the RSAF’s 70 existing F-15 Strike Eagles, as well as the 84 new-builds, plus a very comprehensive equipment and weapons suite. Boeing Military Aircraft officials have declined to comment on the deal. However, Boeing chairman and CEO Jim McNerney told financial analysts last month that the company had invested in long-lead time items for the Saudi package because he was “confident” that it would be confirmed.

Saudi decision-making has always been opaque, and the recent death of Crown Prince Sultan, 81, may further complicate the situation. He had been defense minister for the past 40 years. His successor in that role is Prince Salman, 76, another veteran of the Al Sudairi clan.

Rafale Versus Typhoon in India

India's choice between the Rafale and the Typhoon for the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) requirement is eagerly awaited. After two years of technical evaluation, the four other MMRCA contenders were eliminated last April. All except the first 18 of the 124 aircraft required must be manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL). The commercial bids from Dassault and EADS representing Eurofighter were opened in New Delhi ten days ago. The Times of India reported that the unit flyaway cost of the Eurofighter was found to be higher than that of the Rafale, while The Deccan Herald reported the opposite.

The MMRCA contest rules require that the winner now be chosen on price. No credit for extra performance will be carried over from the technical evaluation. But the commercial bids include some complicated pricing for training and logistics, including life-cycle costs and the cost of transferring technology. During the contest, India upped its offset requirement to 50 percent. The process of clarifying all aspects of the commercial bids could yet take some months.