French Arms Sales: A 2021 Update


By Pierre Tran

Paris – France expects to win arms export orders worth more than €30 billion ($34 billion) spread over this year and 2022, mainly due to sales of the Rafale fighter jet, Thierry Carlier, head of the international development department of the Direction Générale de l’Armement procurement office, said Dec. 9.

The estimate for 2021/22 “will be more than 30 billion,” he told the weekly press conference of the armed forces ministry. That forecast was based on contracts already signed and deals seen as “more or else certain.”

Such a forecast spread over two years is highly unusual for the DGA, which seeks to coordinate sales of French weapons with the services and industry. The appearance of Carlier, appointed four years ago, at the weekly briefing was unusual, the ministry spokesman, Hervé Grandjean, said.

That forecast 30 billion compared to orders worth €4.9 billion booked in 2020, and €9.1 billion in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the sharp drop in orders last year, as the health crisis hit government spending.

Aeronautics will account for the largest foreign orders, Carlier said, followed by the naval sector, and then land weapons.

The largest foreign arms deal was the United Arab Emirates’ order worth €14 billion for 80 Dassault Aviation Rafale fighter jets, which included service and training, he said. That fighter jet deal was accompanied by an order worth €2 billion of missiles, and an estimated €700 million for 12 Caracal helicopters. The UAE can also fit their own weapons to the Rafale.

The French authorities announced that large UAE arms deal Dec. 3.

For the first time in an export deal, the UAE has ordered a version still under development for the Rafale fighter, he said. That F4 version will mean the UAE will operate the same Rafale version as the French air force.

The F4 will be capable of carrying a new air-to-air missile, namely the Mica next generation, and a new guided AASM 1,000 kg bomb. Other capabilities will be the Spectra defensive aid, an upgraded Talios laser designation targeting pod, and boosted cybersecurity.

That F4 version will be on the pathway to the future combat air system, he said.

Negotiations on the UAE order started towards the end of last year, with the aim of closing the deal in time for the Dubai air show, which ran Nov. 12-16. Talks for a technical agreement ran from November 2020 to June 2021, leaving relatively little time for commercial negotiations, which were ran June to October 2021.

The Rafale deal was announced when French president Emmanuel Macron visited the UAE rather than at the air show.

That order from Abu Dhabi reflected a strategic partnership at the highest level between France and the UAE, rather simply a commercial deal, Carlier said. A bilateral intergovernmental agreement was signed in 2009, and interoperability stemmed from French forces sharing with the services of the partner nation their experience in handling “combat proven” weapons.

That combat proven tag is seen as essential in winning any arms deal.

Among major weapons competitions, Finland is expected to decide “in the next few weeks,” he said.

The Finnish defense forces have reportedly recommended the government pick the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter in a competition which has attracted rival offers of the Boeing F-18, Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafale, and Saab Gripen.

Greece has opted for the Belharra frigate, and “negotiations are in the process of being closed,” he said.

There are sale prospects in India and Indonesia, he said. Submarines are viewed with interest – offering potential deals for the French company Naval Group. There are potential deals around the world for land weapons.

France actively and proudly pursues arms export deals, which are part of its business model for national sovereignty. Those export contracts help fund the national budget, which partly finances research and development of weapons, seen as needed for a strategic autonomy.

The government publishes an annual report to parliament on arms exports, while some parliamentarians call for a voice in authorizing foreign sales rather than simply reading about them a year later.

France lost out earlier this year when Australia cancelled a plan to build 12 conventional attack submarines with Naval Group, in a deal estimated to be worth some €30 billion. NG had conducted initial design studies in successive tranches, and had expected to sign a €1.4 billion contract for basic design work.

But an Australian decision to seek a nuclear-powered attack submarine with the UK and the U.S. under a trilateral agreement dubbed AUKUS sank that French deal.

The DGA international development department employs some 200 staff, with 180 based here, and 20 as embassy attachés. The staff are specialists in the Rafale, frigates, and submarines, and can also draw on other DGA experts if needed.

The DGA works with the foreign and finance ministries, and the treasury department in the pursuit of export deals.

Featured Photo: LE BOURGET PARIS: June 21, 2019: French Air Force Dassault Rafale fighter jet plane performing at the Paris Air Show airshow.

Photo 154812023 / Rafale Fighter Jet © VanderWolfImages |