The FAF to Receive Upgraded Rafales and Re-enforcing Export Position

By Pierre Tran

Paris – France ordered at the end of last year 42 updated Rafales, in a deal worth more than five billion euros ($5.5 billion), including the latest version of Mica missiles, the armed forces ministry and prime contractor Dassault Aviation said in separate Jan. 12 statements.

“The Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) signed contracts with Dassault Aviation, Thales, Safran and MBDA for production of the 5th batch in the Rafale program,” the ministry said in a statement. No date was given.

“This includes production of 42 aircraft in the single-seater version at standard F4, for the air and space force,” the ministry said. “This investment of more than €5 billion will support a number of regions,” armed forces minister Sébastien Lecornu said in the statement.

No details were available on how the total amount was split among the contractors.

Dassault executive chairman Eric Trappier had told Dec. 5 the Defense Journalists Association press club he expected the order later that month.

That order for 42 fighters consisted of 30 units for the French fifth batch, and 12 to replace the fighters sold second-hand to Croatia. Separately, France ordered in 2021 12 fighters to replace those also sold second hand to Greece.

Announcement of the latest French order follows Dassault’s Jan. 8 statement that Indonesia’s order for the last batch of 18 Rafales had come into effect. That effectively meant Jakarta had paid the down payment needed to seal that deal.

That batch of 18 follows confirmation of the previous batches of six and 18 fighters, bringing the total to 42 for the Indonesian air force, as agreed in February 2022.

Dassault said in a statement on the French order, “At the end of December 2023, the French Defense Procurement Agency (DGA) awarded Dassault Aviation an order for 42 Rafale combat aircraft, known as ‘tranche 5,’ for the French Air Force (AAE).”

The F4 standard will be equipped with a suite of the latest equipment and self-protection, reaching a new level of connectivity and collaborative air combat, the ministry said. That new version will include Contact – a digital software-defined radio, Mica NG (new generation) missile, and an autonomous software jamming capability added to the Spectra self-protection system.

First delivery of the fifth batch is due in 2027, with the fighters designed to evolve to the F5 standard in the 2030s, the ministry said.

The order, which was included in the 2024-2030 military budget law voted in last July, will boost production – and jobs – with the ministry listing 18 of the towns around the country.

The latest French order brought the total domestic orders to 234 Rafales, Dassault said. That compares to total export orders for 261 new fighters.

The total number of domestic, including the fifth tranche, and export orders secure 10 years of production, the company said.

Dassault is building up production to three fighters a month this year, with the main factory near Bordeaux closed for the month of August for the traditional French summer holiday. The previous long-standing output was one unit a month, or 11 a year, before the company won foreign deals for the fighter.

Standard 4 for the Rafale, focusing on connectivity, is under development, the company said, and standard 5 is due to deliver capabilities in collaborative combat.

Dassault received orders for 60 Rafales last year – comprising 42 for France, 18 for  Indonesia, the company said, compared to orders for 92 in 2022, all from foreign clients.

That third Indonesian batch, for 18, came into effect Jan. 8, 2024, and was not included in the orders for 2023.

Dassault delivered 13 Rafales last year, down from 15 units expected, the company said,  compared to 14 fighters shipped in 2022.

Saudi Arabia last year joined the list of export prospects for the French fighter, as Riyadh asked for information on the Rafale. That was the Saudi response to Germany previously blocking a Saudi order for the U.K. to supply 42 Eurofighter Typhoons, worth £10 billion.

Germany has just switched that restrictive policy, in response to the Saudi air force defending Israel, with Saudi pilots flying Eurofighter Typhoons to intercept missiles fired by Houthi militants in Yemen, seeking to hit Israeli targets.

Lecornu has remained in office as armed forces minister after the newly appointed and youthful prime minister, Gabriel Attal, 34, named new ministers to key cabinet positions.

Lecornu’s name had circulated as a possible appointment to Matignon, the prime minister’s office, as president Emmanuel Macron looked to shake up an administration low in the opinion polls after forcing through a controversial immigration act, seen as borrowing ideas from the nationalist far-right.

Credit Featured Image: Dassault Aviation

Editor’s Note: The French government for some time has leveraged the French Air Force’s extant fleet of Rafales in support of foreign arms sales, reducing the operative capability of the FAF. This order takes a step in the direction of enhancing FAF capabilities with upgraded Rafales.