France Warns of Rafale's Production Endhttp://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i= ... =EUR&s=AIR
PARIS - France warned Dec. 7 that defense giant Dassault would halt production of its Rafale multi-role fighter jet if it remains unable to sell any abroad.
French Defense Minister Gerard Longuet said that if Dassault doesn't sell any Rafales abroad, the aircraft's production line will be stopped after current orders are delivered. (DASSAULT) "If Dassault doesn't sell any Rafales abroad, the production line... will be stopped" once France has received the 180 aircraft it has ordered, Defense Minister Gerard Longuet told a small group of journalists including AFP.
France considers the twin-motor delta-wing Rafale a state-of-the-art warplane but has struggled to find any foreign buyers to support the project that has so far cost more than 40 billion euros ($53 billion).
Longuet said maintenance arrangements would continue for all completed aircraft and that French Rafale orders alone would keep the production line going until at least 2018.
Then "it will be over for the manufacturer, not for the user," he said of the plane that has been deployed in NATO operations in Afghanistan and Libya.
He later clarified his comments to say production of the fighter would not in any case end before 2030.
"Production destined for the French military will not stop before 2030," he told AFP. "Deliveries to militaries will continue substantially past 2020. In parallel the plane will evolve between 2020 and 2030."
The Rafale is mainly built by Dassault, electronics company Thales and motor manufacturer Snecma, part of the Safran group. A total of more than 1,500 French companies are also involved in the program.
Longuet insisted that the Rafale remained in competition with European manufacturer EADS' Eurofighter Typhoon for a large Indian contract and that "we are in tough negotiations with the United Arab Emirates."
However, Emirati officials, who were said to be in final talks with France to buy 60 Rafales, said last month that the French offer was unworkable and uncompetitive.
A U.S. cable leaked by WikiLeaks in 2010 quoted King Hamad of Bahrain as mocking the Rafale as "yesterday's technology."
Opting for the Swedish-made Saab Gripen to replace its aging fleet, Switzerland in November became the latest country to choose another fighter over the Rafale.
The Rafale and Typhoon are in the final stage of a massive duel to meet India's 126-unit medium multirole combat aircraft requirement. Final bids were opened earlier last month, with a decision possible within weeks.
Asked why Dassault was having trouble selling the plane abroad, Longuet said the multirole jet was "more expensive than American planes, which are produced in much greater numbers."
"While we order 200 Rafales for a 10-15 year program, the Americans make 3,000 aircraft," he said.
"However, for top-level missions of high military value, the Rafale is undeniably well-positioned."
Analyst Olivier Zajec with the CEIS think tank said it was unlikely production of the Rafale would end soon, as the French Air Force has a target of obtaining 286 of the planes, meaning another 17 years of production.
"I do not think they can close the production line so quickly because the Air Force has made the choice of the Rafale," he said.
Development of the Rafale began in the 1980s, and the first prototype was built in 1991. The first plane for delivery to the French military rolled off the production line in 1998.
Its multirole capabilities mean it can carry out air-ground or air-sea attacks, reconnaissance, aerial interception or nuclear strike missions.
It is made from composite materials that ensure it has a low radar profile.
It was designed to replace seven French planes, including the Mirage 2000 multirole fighter and Super Etendard carrier-borne strike fighter, both also manufactured by Dassault.