In a surprise move, the Egyptian government has announced it had agreed with French aircraft maker Dassault on the purchase of 24 sleek Rafale fighter jets. The announcement on February 13th 2015 triggered acclamations from French quarters over the aircraft long awaited first foreign sale.
The deal worth Euros 5.2 billion consists of 24 aircraft part of weapons package also including a frigate along with “associated related equipment”. The deal which is rumored to have taken less than 3 months to close will be executed in a similarly remarkably short amount of time with 3 aircraft being delivered before the end of the year and another 3 next year 2016. Credit financing on at least half of the purchase contract has been enacted via Coface, France main credit-risk assessment house, and will involve some of France’s largest banks taking portions of the facility. As well an unnamed Gulf nation is said to have contributed financially on the deal.
The aircraft which has equipped France Air Force and Naval Aviation beginning in 2001 has struggled to acquire a single foreign client. In 2013 a $5 billion deal with Brazil for 36 aircraft fell through in favor of the Swedish Gripen NG fighter jet. An outstanding order with India for 126 aircraft worth 11 billion Euros has yet to fully materialize while rumors that the deal will is being jeopardized on account of France’s unwillingness to unlock its most prized technology on the aircraft. Again the Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Russia’s big, super maneuverable fighter / interceptor which is already operated by India’s Air Force stands ready to fill that void.
Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi first mentioned the need for the aircraft during a September visit by French Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian who had come to offer upgrades for the 19 Dassault Mirage 2000 aircraft that Egypt, at the time first export customer for the type, acquired in 1981. By December, Dassault top executives had secured an agreement. This direct and expedited sale process may highlights Egypt pressing security priorities. And there may be many.
The Sinai Islamist insurgency which has escalated following the bloody crack down against the Muslim Brotherhood by the Army and the rapidly worsening civil war in neighboring Lybia have now seemingly taken front stage, relegating the regions traditional military power struggle involving Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran to a second role. However this may not be entirely so. Egypt’s Air Force, the world’s largest operator of F-16 (with 220 aircraft following the US, Israel and Turkey) evidently does not need another sophisticated, very expensive jet for counterinsurgency operations. That job is best left to US made AH-64 Apache gunship helicopters of which Egypt operates more than 30 and to some extent, to French-built SA-342 Gazelle light attack helicopters. To some degrees Russian-made Armed/Assault Troops Mi-8/Mi-17 helicopters will also give valuable operational assistance in those missions.
The Rafale on the other end is a vary capable 4th generation multirole fighter aircraft, maybe the West’s most capable, along with its Euro-cousin Typhoon both originating from a similar requirement issued in the 80’s.
Its air-to-air capabilities when armed with MICA or MAGIC II missiles Infra Red homed or guided by RBE2 electronically scanned array radar gives it tremendous effectiveness. With the canard foreplane configuration mated to a twin-engine powered airframe, the design is simply the most capable dog-fighter currently available in the world along with the super maneuverable Flanker Su-27/30/35 family of fighter aircraft.
This aircraft uses the SPECTRA self protection system, an integrated and programmable sensor-enabled suite in order to operate in the most hostile, highly defended environments. In an air to ground offensive scenario, the Damocles Electro Optical/Laser targeting pod, the aircraft long range of 3,700+ km (2,000+ nmi) with 3 drop tanks, and a payload of precision air to ground armament including MBDA Apache & Storm Shadow / Scalp EG stand-off cruise missiles attached to some of the aircraft’s 14 hard points compound highly improved capabilities for Egypt.
In comparison the venerable Mirage 2000 has 9 hard points and a combat range of 1,550 km (837 nmi, 963 mi) with drop tanks.
In all, Egypt new ‘civilian vested’ military government showed its true virtue of continuously expending conventional military capabilities at a strategic level since the Rafale is well fitted to penetrate deep into any highly defended air space and employ precision weapons in order to take out high value target. This acquisition has the potential for seriously re-igniting a new regional arms race. Some of the aircraft’s acquisition financing it may turn out, was generously contributed via petro-dollars originating from a small Gulf state who (coincidentally) is also probably bent on keeping Israel strategic planners awake while at the same token challenging Saudi Arabia influence. All in one shot, this would also permits serving notice to Iran that the preeminent military Arab nation has now acquired even more capabilities.