Fresh from signing a contract to supply 36 Dassault Rafale jets to India, France is looking at Malaysia as the next possible buyer of its multi-role fighter.
Malaysia and Canada have competitions to acquire new fighter aircraft in which Dassault is a bidder but Dassault CEO Eric Trappier is more optimistic on the Asian country. Talking about the chances of the Rafale in future competitions where it would up against the American fighter jets such as the F-16 and F/A-18 Super Hornet, Trappier was quoted as saying by a French publication, Challenges, “we are not like America, we have to build a good plane.”
Reading between the lines of Trappier’s statement, is an admission of American political pressure for countries to buy its aircraft and that for the French to compete in such an environment their aircraft has to be better than the competition.
The Malaysian procurement is considered a good opportunity by Boeing which manufactures the F/A-18. Malaysia is retiring older versions of F/A-18s in service with its Air Force. Saab which has sold its Gripen fighters to Thailand is also considered a good bet especially when it beat the French in the deal to sell jets to Brazil.
Regarding Canada, which re-opened the competition after public pressure to reject the super-expensive F-35, the French are not so optimistic given ‘American pressure’ on its northern neighbour. Canada has invited Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Dassault to bid for its fighter acquisition program. But many industry pundits expect the ultimate winner to be an American plane.
However, the Indian contract would give an advantage to Dassault like none other. A French diplomat was quoted as saying in a French publication, Le Maghreb, "the Indians are downright formidable as negotiators," meaning that the aircraft and the terms of purchase are the only issues that mattered in the negotiations. Unlike in many other defence deals all around the world where bilateral relations and political groups (NATO countries buying only from fellow NATO countries) matter more than the technical merits of the equipment.