31 March 2014 By Salman Siddiqui - gulf-times.com
The “omnirole” fighter jet Rafale can “easily” meet all the requirements of Qatar’s defence needs for the present and the future, a top Dassault Aviation (DA) official said recently.
Benoît Dussaugey, DA’s senior executive vice-president (international), told Gulf Times that the French company was in the race to win the multi-billion dollar contract for new fighter jets for Qatar’s Emiri Air Force and was “very confident” of its chances given the “excellent capability” of its aircraft.
“The final decision, of course, is with the Qatari authorities and we are sure that they will choose the best aircraft,” he said.
Dussaugey spoke to Gulf Times on the sidelines of the recently held mega defence exhibition, Dimdex 2014.
The Rafale is in competition with other major fighter aircraft, including the Euro fighter Typhoon backed strongly by the British via BAE Systems and American conglomerate Boeing that was reportedly offering the Super Hornet F-18 and F-15 Strike Eagle.
When asked about the reason for his confidence given that the French company’s jet hasn’t had a major sale in the region yet, Dussaugey said the whole world acknowledges the high performance of Rafale. He also pointed out that while it was true Saudi Arabia went ahead with its Typhoon jet deal, the UAE had backed out of it.
A top BAE System official had told Gulf Times earlier that the Typhoon deal had not gone through in the UAE because of the country’s “budgetary” constraints and had nothing to do with their aircraft’s capability. Dussaugey admitted with a laugh that “we were very happy” when the Typhoon deal did not materialise in the UAE.
The French official said his company was still a big contender in the Middle East market and was looking to bag contracts not only in Qatar, but also other countries such as Bahrain .
Also, France is the only country apart from the US that is able to deploy a large aircraft carrier in the region.
According to IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, recent years have seen a growing French naval presence in the region, led principally by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. At Port Zayed in Abu Dhabi in the UAE, France has opened a new naval base, where Charles de Gaulle in 2010 was one of the first French navy ships to visit.
The aircraft carrier comprises 10 Rafale M and 10 Super Etendard fighter aircraft, as well as two airborne early-warning and control E-2C Hawkeye aircraft, the weekly added.
When asked to comment on the performance of Rafale in the UAE, the official said: “The Rafale has performed perfectly well in the UAE and we didn’t even need to modify our aircraft in anyway to suit the extremely hot weather conditions of the region.”
He also highlighted the jet’s past military engagements, including in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2011, Libya in 2011 and Mali in 2013.