Last Monday, French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian was in Cairo to sign a contract with Egypt concerning the supply by France of 24 Dassault Rafale multirole fighters, a FREMM frigate from DNCS, and associated Aster 15 and Mica missiles from MBDA.
The signing of the contract, worth around €5 billion, followed an announcement of the deal a few days earlier by French president François Hollande. “This equipment will allow Egypt to increase its security and play fully its role in promoting regional stability,” read the presidential statement. Negotiations with Egypt began in earnest during December.
Egypt is no stranger to Dassault products, having flown the Mirage 5 for many years, and currently operates the Alpha Jet trainer and Mirage 2000. Driven by President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt is pushing to upgrade its military capabilities, and perceives an urgent need for new aircraft as a reaction to what it sees as increased external threats, notably that from ongoing turmoil in neighbouring Libya. Having first seen combat over Afghanistan, French Rafales played a major part in the 2011 NATO air campaign over Libya, subsequently seeing action over Mali and, since last September, over Iraq.
For Dassault Aviation (French Pavilion, Stand 07-B15) the deal represents a major boost, as the Rafale programme was becoming increasingly under threat of a production slowdown if no export sales could be concluded. The type was selected by India in early 2012, but contract negotiations over the supply of 126 Rafales are still to reach fruition.
Elsewhere in the MENA region, the Rafale was frontrunner for some time in the UAE’s search for a new fighter, as well as being the subject of interest in Kuwait. Earlier it had seemed likely that Morocco would buy the type, but that deal went to the US F-16.
Now Dassault is looking to Qatar as its most likely sales opportunity in the region, a number of 36 aircraft having been reported. French media reports from late 2014 suggested that negotiations were then at an advanced stage. Minister Le Drian visited Qatar last month for talks with His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al- Thani, although whether the Rafale was on the agenda has not been disclosed.