By Pierre Tran
Paris – France has ordered a batch of 12 Dassault Aviation Rafale fighter jets to replace for those which the air force is handing over to Greece, the minister of the armed forces, Florence Parly, said Jan. 29.
“It is with great pleasure that today I announce an order for 12 Rafales for France,” she said at a Dassault factory at Argonay, near the Alps in southeast France.
The order is part of a speedy deal in which France sold 18 Rafales to Greece, with six new aircraft and 12 secondhand units from the French air force.
The Greek authorities signed the Rafale contract on Monday, marking the first European export order for the fighter.
The deal was worth some €2.5 billion ($3.5 billion), of which some €500 million was for missiles, an industry executive said.
The 12 secondhand Rafales were worth €400 million, financial website La Tribune reported. The order includes the aircraft, service and training, and weapons including Scalp cruise missiles, Meteor and Mica air-to-air missiles, and Exocet AM 39 air-to-sea missiles.
The Greek order follows heightened tension with Turkey, which has pursued exploration for oil and gas in the eastern Mediterranean, a region over which Athens claims territorial rights.
The French air force will send its Rafales to Greece this summer, and those will be replaced with the latest F-3R version of the fighter, Parly said. The minister said she went to Athens on Monday to attend the “historic” contract signing.
“It is historic because it is the first time a European nation chose the Rafale as a fighter jet to assure air superiority,” she said.
“This is an industrial success for France and a capability success for Greece and above all a great victory for Europe.”
Greece joins Egypt, India and Qatar, on the Rafale export client list, while in Europe, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK have received the F-35 fighter.
The orders for Greece and replacement for the French air force come in time to plug a production gap which yawned for Dassault in 2025.
The aircraft builder is due to ship the last Rafale for India and Qatar by the end of 2022, while the last delivery of a 28-strong batch for the French air force is due by the end of 2024.
There is a further batch of Rafales to be negotiated and ordered, with delivery due between 2027 and 2030 for the French air force. Dassault is building two units per month for 11 months a year to meet its export schedule. The factories close for August, a traditional holiday month.
The Greek order shows the French effort in pursuing exports and allows the French air force to receive new fighters at the latest standard, a defense specialist said.
There are other export prospects for the Rafale and the Greek order is “good publicity,” the specialist said. There is stiff competition for arms exports between the Europe and the U.S., and it will be interesting to see what will happen with the Biden administration.
France hopes the fighter acquisition will lead to Greek orders for French warships.
“The excellence of the strategic and operational relations could also apply to a capability in the maritime sector,” Parly said when she was in Athens, adding that France would soon send proposals for Greek plans to renew its frigate fleet.
Paris could fly over the Rafale in just a few months, whereas a Greek order for the French frigate for defense and intervention would have meant a longer delivery time. The French navy is due to receive the first FDI in 2023.
That left Naval Group, the French shipbuilder, behind in the Greek race to buy weapons.
A Greek contract signing for two FDI Belharra warships and naval cruise missiles had been expected last July, but Athens had shifted sights. That two-ship deal was estimated to be worth €2 billion-€2.5 billion.
Naval Group is making an offer of four FDI frigates and service in the next few weeks, a company spokesman said.
That service included support for the four Meko frigates sailed by the Greek navy.
Dassault builds the flight control systems at the Argonay factory.
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