Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier hinted at a new Rafale jet export contract in the making while speaking at his company’s first half 2020 financial results conference in Paris earlier this week.
“A potential new Rafale export contract is postponed,” he said while referring to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Dassault’s performance without naming the country with whom his company was close to signing the contract with.
This is the first official acknowledgement by Dassault Aviation of a new Rafale export order reaching the contract stage- the first since deals were struck with Egypt, Qatar and India starting 2015.
Reports of India being in talks to buy an additional 36 Rafale aircraft have been going on for a while now, but nothing has been revealed officially as yet.
In addition, Dassault Aviation is in talks with UAE and Malaysia. It is in competition to sell jets to Switzerland and Finland pitted against European rivals Eurofighter and Saab.
Of these prospects, India appears as the most likely candidate even as the first five Rafale jets arrive in India Monday.
Earlier this year, comments by the Indian Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Bipin Rawat that a potential order for 114 jets would be “staggered” set off speculation of an additional order for Rafale fighters.
A staggered purchase (of the Rafales) would ease financial burden by paying for the jets as they are manufactured. In addition, buying additional Rafales would ensure that the jets keep getting supplied to India uninterrupted beyond the end of the first contract for 36 jets.
Several Indian media reports said that French aircraft manufacturer Dassault and India’s HAL are in talks for possible cooperation in producing Rafale fighter jets in India for additional anticipated orders under a staggered procurement plan. The Economic Times reported in February this year that a few rounds of discussions have taken place between the two companies on possible work share for additional orders of the Rafale.
In this context ‘work share’ could mean local assembly of either the aircraft or some major components. It could also mean installation of some Indian components in the jet. Dassault and HAL are already implementing a contract to modernize India’s Mirage-2000 jets.
Additional Rafales could be cheaper than the 36 ordered in 2016 for Euro 7.8 billion. Of the total cost, Euro 195 million was spent on India-specific enhancements which will come down as the majority of the cost was for R & D, modification and certification. Besides, India had paid for setting up two bases for just 36 aircraft. These bases can easily accommodate more jets.