Berlin ‘sells’ over 50 French Dassault Rafale jets to Riyadh

It is reported that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is contemplating the purchase of 54 Rafale fighter jets from French aircraft manufacturer, Dassault Aviation. Intelligence Online initially reported this news, attributing the motivation to a stalemate in Saudi Arabia’s endeavors to acquire additional Eurofighter Typhoons for the Royal Saudi Air Force [RSAF]. 

French Rafale F5 coming with emphasis on EW and SEAD in 2030
Photo credit: Twitter

Saudi Arabia’s failure to secure the desired Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft is rooted in an imposed restriction by Germany a participating nation in the aircraft program. This ban not only leaves room for Berlin to potentially “sell” the competing Rafale jets to Saudi Arabia, but it also puts the future of the Eurofighter Typhoon program at risk. An overview of the unfolding scenario is as follows: 

A detailed cost inquiry for the procurement of 54 Rafale fighter jets was submitted to French manufacturers by Saudi authorities, with a demand for a response by November 10, 2023, as reported by La Tribune from several sources. 

New munition under the French Rafale F4.1 wings - the AASM 1000
Photo credit: French MoD

The possibility of Saudi Arabia procuring 54 Rafale jets could bolster France’s position in the Middle Eastern defense market and strengthen Rafale’s standing as a highly desired combat aircraft in the region. 

With its purchase in 2015 and subsequent acquisition in 2021, Egypt became the initial regional country to acquire a total of 54 Rafale jets. Qatar chose the Rafale in 2015 and later in 2017, procuring 36 of the French fighter jets in total. Reports suggest that the emirate is considering firming up options to acquire another lot of 36 jets. 

In December 2021, Dassault Aviation scored its most significant single order to date, as the United Arab Emirates agreed to procure 80 Rafale jets. The acquisition would also pose a direct challenge to the Eurofighter Typhoon, a product of a collective of European companies, including BAE Systems, Airbus, and Italy’s Leonardo.

First part of UAE's 80 Rafale F4 delivery program is in full swing
Photo credit: Dassault Rafale

The first choice 

In August 2006, Saudi Arabia agreed to buy 72 Typhoon fighter jets, which were delivered from 2008 to 2017. A memorandum of intent was signed in March 2018 to procure 48 more Typhoon aircraft. 

However, a potential order facilitated by the United Kingdom was forestalled by Germany in July 2023. Following the 2018 assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, German authorities ceased arms sales to Saudi Arabia. 

Spanish and German Eurofighters in Estonia begin alert missions
Photo credit: Luftwaffe

The RSAF’s fighter fleet largely comprises over 200 US-made F-15C/D/SA Eagle fighters. The first F-15 delivered to Saudi Arabia took flight in 1978, which was only two years after its formal induction by the United States Air Force.

A German black hole

The anticipated discontinuation of the defense and aerospace industry’s Typhoon program is on the horizon due to Germany’s refusal to approve the sale of the UK’s Eurofighter Typhoon fighters to Saudi Arabia. 

The precarious position of the Eurofighter program was recently highlighted by Airbus Defense and Space CEO, and current president of the German Aerospace Association [BDLI], Michael Schölhorn. 

Egypt buys Eurofighters, M-346 aircraft, frigates, and spy satellite
Photo: Eurofighter Typhoon

This warning appears to have been issued out of a desperate bid to safeguard the European warbird, particularly as it comes in the aftermath of an unsuccessful UK initiative aimed at convincing German regulators to approve a fresh sale to Saudi Arabia. 

During a press briefing orchestrated by BDLI in Berlin on October 13, Schölhorn emphasized the critical need to launch a novel production series for the Eurofighter Typhoon [known as Tranche 5] by 2025, to prevent any stoppages in production. 

According to current schedules, the German production of the Eurofighter is expected to reach completion in 2030 with the delivery of the final Tranche 4 aircraft [Quadriga contract, 38 fighters] to the Luftwaffe. This schedule suggests a decade-long hiatus in orders for the German military aviation industry, particularly considering that the earliest projected operational capabilities of the upcoming SCAF/FCAS fighters, developed collaboratively with France and Spain, are tentatively set for 2040. 

New world-class ECRS Mk2 radar for British Typhoons begins testing
Photo credit: UK MoD / Twitter

Airbus fears the potentially devastating consequences of this projected decline in military fighter manufacturing in Germany, including significant employment losses and a steep downturn in the aviation sector as a whole. As a response, Airbus stresses the imperative and urgent need for a decision from the German Ministry of Defense regarding the Eurofighter, especially in terms of the issuance of a new order [Tranche 5].

What will the Saudis get?

The French Rafale fighter is a multi-role combat aircraft developed and manufactured by Dassault Aviation. It is designed to perform various missions, including air superiority, ground attack, reconnaissance, and nuclear deterrence.

The Rafale is known for its advanced avionics, aerodynamic design, and high maneuverability, making it a formidable asset in modern aerial warfare.

French Rafale F5 coming with emphasis on EW and SEAD in 2030
Photo credit: Reddit

The Rafale has a maximum takeoff weight of around 24,500 kilograms [54,000 pounds] and a length of approximately 15.3 meters [50 feet]. It has a wingspan of about 10.9 meters [36 feet] and a height of around 5.3 meters [17 feet].

The aircraft is powered by two Snecma M88-2 engines, which provide a combined thrust of around 150 kilonewtons [33,700 pounds-force]. The engines are known for their reliability, performance, and fuel efficiency.

The operational range of the Rafale depends on various factors such as the mission profile, payload, and fuel load. However, it is generally capable of flying up to 3,700 kilometers [2,300 miles] without aerial refueling.

The aircraft can reach a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 [2,222 kilometers per hour or 1,380 miles per hour] at high altitude and Mach 1.1 [1,390 kilometers per hour or 860 miles per hour] at low altitude.

Egyptian Air Force surpassed 10,000 flight hours with French Rafales
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The Rafale is equipped with a wide range of armament options to fulfill its different roles. It has 14 hardpoints, which can carry various air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, bombs, and precision-guided munitions.

The aircraft is capable of carrying advanced weapons such as the Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile, SCALP long-range cruise missile, and AASM modular air-to-ground weapon. It also has a 30mm internal cannon for close air support and self-defense purposes.

F/A-18E SH, Rafale and MiG-29 begin their battle for the Indian Navy
Photo credit: Wikipedia

164 Rafale jets on order

In an unprecedented move, Dassault Aviation, in 2022, secured orders for 92 Rafales, culminating in a historic order book of 164 jets awaiting delivery. The manufacturing of these aircraft signals an enormous challenge, even as potential future orders from India, Indonesia, and France loom large on the horizon. 

The French fighter jet observed an unrivalled surge in order consumption in 2022. Over the previous year, Dassault Aviation’s fighter jet secured orders for 92 units [80 from the United Arab Emirates, 6 from Greece, and 6 from Indonesia], equating to a total value of 15.7 billion euros. This remarkable accomplishment was disclosed by the French conglomerate during the unveiling of its yearly financial outcomes. 

Consequently, the defense order portfolio ballooned to 30.3 billion euros, 21.9 billion of which were attributed to exports. As of the end of the fiscal year on December 31, Dassault had 164 Rafales on their order ledger, comprising of 125 units for export and 39 for domestic consumption in France. This figure is an unparalleled achievement in the annals of the group’s history. 

Greece received the first six of eighteen Rafale fighters
Photo credit: Dassault Aviation

Alongside the prospective order from Saudi Arabia, the consortium is assured of steady and lasting production. It is further likely to penetrate new markets in the Middle East, signifying a dramatic turning point for the organization.

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