Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier said that last year’s sale of 36 Rafale combat aircraft to India “will pave the way for other contracts in 2017.” Speaking during the presentation of the company’s 2016 financial annual results on March 8, Trappier also revealed another extension to the flight-test program for the pan-European Neuron unmanned combat air system (UCAS), for which Dassault is the lead company.
Reviewing the Indian sale, Trappier said that “we have not yet determined” which parts of the Rafale will be produced by Dassault’s joint venture partner there, Reliance. Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd was created last month to manage the 50 percent offsets that are stipulated in the contract. Trappier said that the joint venture would consider producing the Rafale in India if more aircraft were ordered. He said that the company would be responding to the request for information (RFI) from India for 57 multirole naval fighters that can be adapted to the country’s current short-takeoff but arrested recovery (STOBAR) aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and for the future aircraft carriers that will employ catapults for takeoff. “The Rafale Marine is adapted to both technologies,” Trappier noted, adding that only a few modifications would have to be made.
Regarding other sales prospects, Trappier mentioned Canada, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Canada is reconsidering its previous commitment to the F-35, and “we have supplied all the required information” he said. But, he added, “The situation is now confusing.” Malaysia still wants to buy 18 multirole fighters but has no defined timescale, Trappier noted. Regarding the UAE, Dassault is more confident. Trappier said: “We are strongly supporting their 60 Mirage 2000-9s which are in action over Yemen. They are in very good shape, and the UAE wants to keep flying them. But as soon as the UAE decides that they need a new aircraft, I’m confident they will choose the Rafale.”
Dassault delivered six Rafales to France last year and three to Egypt, which ordered 24 in 2015 and took delivery of its first three that same year. This year, the airframer will deliver eight more Rafales to Egypt and just one to France. Deliveries of the Rafale to Qatar will begin in 2018; the Gulf state bought 24 in 2015. The total backlog of orders for the Rafale now stands at 110. Dassault is continuing the development of an F3R upgrade standard for the combat jet.
A new program of trials with the Neuron UCAS demonstrator has started, Trappier revealed, following the flight tests at sea made with the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier last summer. The first goal is to check that the stealth performance of the Neuron has not been degraded after several years of flight tests. And then, in September, a new flight-test campaign will start in France. So far, no termination date has been decided by the consortium of six countries who participate in this program (France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland).
According to Trappier, the Neuron trials are helping pave the way for the Future Combat Aircraft System (FCAS), a Franco-British program that was previously stated to have a start date this year. But Trappier suggested this is now likely to be in 2018. A prototype is set to be built by BAE Systems and Dassault, “but we don’t know when because it depends on the official launch by France and the UK,” he said.