The UAE has signed what is called a “historic contract” with France’s Dassault Aviation to buy 80 Rafale F4 jets, the latest variant of the 4.5-generation fighter aircraft. With this deal, the UAE will become the largest operator of the Rafale fleet outside France.
Dassault Aviation said that “a historic contract” for the acquisition of 80 Rafale at F4 standard to equip the United Arab Emirates Air Force & Air Defense (UAE AF & AD) was signed between Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation and Tareq Abdul Raheem Al Hosani, Chairman and CEO of Tawazun Economic Council, in charge of security and defense acquisitions.
French President Emmanuel Macron and the Crown prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan were also present during the signing of the deal. This signifies the strategic importance of this deal at the Head of State level and hints at a bolstering of defense ties between the two nations.
The largest-ever export deal for the French warplane was signed as Macron began a two-day tour to the Gulf, where he will also visit Qatar and Saudi Arabia, said Reuters.
The deal was originally brought about on the sidelines of the Dubai Expo 2020 and also includes the transfer of 12 Caracal helicopters. It is the French code name for the H225M, the multi-role military version of the Super Puma.
The French presidency said in a statement that “this deal cements a strategic cooperation that is stronger than ever and directly contributes to regional stability”.
This contract assumes importance as it comes in the backdrop of some hiccups in the ties between Arab states and the US. Even as these countries have sought more weapons from Washington, they have lately been taking a keen interest in other suppliers such as France.
Contrat historique pour l’acquisition de 80 #Rafale au standard F4 par les Émirats Arabes Unis https://t.co/URckkM8oEu
Historical contract for the acquisition of 80 Rafale F4 by the United Arab Emirates https://t.co/ramNI9772n pic.twitter.com/5w3Pcd7988
— Dassault Aviation (@Dassault_OnAir) December 3, 2021
The US investment and focus on the Indo-Pacific region could be the reason behind the Arab concerns. Some differences are said to have emerged between the United States and Arab countries over human rights issues, for example, the unequivocal critique of the Saudi plot to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi. With the UAE going ahead with 5G trials with the controversial Chinese company, Huwaei, things have become even more precarious between the two partners.
This, coupled with the deflection of focus from the Middle East towards the Indo-Pacific, could be why the UAE and other Gulf Arab states are looking for diverse options to fulfill their defense needs.
Rafale F4 Standard
With this deal, the UAE will be the first country after France to operate the Rafale F4 variant. Dassault Aviation claims the deal is the result of more than 45 years of confidence between the UAE and Dassault, which began with the Mirage fighter jets, particularly the Mirage 2000-09 whose modernization began two years ago.
The RBE2 AESA radar, Talios targeting pod, front sector optronics system, and helmet-mounted display capabilities will all be added to the Rafale F4. The aircraft’s Spectra defensive system has been upgraded with more powerful jammers to preserve its capacity to repel emerging threats, as previously reported by EurAsian Times.
Future upgrades of the French SCALP-EG stealthy subsonic cruise missile, ASMP-A nuclear missile with a 300-kiloton yield nuclear warhead, MICA NG air-to-air missile, and a 1000-kg version of the AASM precision-guided weapon are all integrated into the Rafale F4 aircraft.
The design of the updated Rafale has been improved to allow for future technology insertions and alterations as and when they become available.
The F4 variant will greatly improve the 4.5-generation fighter’s stealth capabilities, which, while available in prior generations, fell short of competing with fifth-generation combat aircraft to some extent.
S-shaped air intakes, serrated edges, and a channel exhaust cooling technique intended at reducing infrared signature are among Rafale’s other stealth features. These features allow the Rafale to have a radar cross-section (RCS) of roughly one square meter, similar to the Super Hornet and Typhoon fighter jets.
The F4 variant was first highlighted when Dassault received a contract from the French military in 2019. It has since been pitched to several potential customers, including the Indian Air Force, which is currently receiving the delivery of the Rafale jets, for which a deal was signed in 2015.
The bulk purchase of these French fighters by the UAE has not come as a surprise though. With investments moving between the two countries, the French President has built a solid connection with Crown Prince MBZ. Pertinent to mention, Paris maintains a permanent military base in the Gulf country.
The Rafale will replace the Mirage 2000 fleet, but it is unlikely to replace the American-built F-35, according to defense sources, as the UAE continues to hedge its security with two key suppliers, France and the United States.
Nonetheless, the agreement might be interpreted as a sign of impatience while the US Congress considers whether or not to approve an F-35 purchase due to worries about the UAE’s relationship with China, notably the country’s use of Huawei 5G technology.