France's Dassault to ink Rafale jet deal with Qatar
French group Dassault Aviation is poised to sign a 6.3-billion-euro ($7-billion) deal with Qatar for 36 of its Rafale fighter jets, the presidency said Thursday, in the third foreign order this year.
Having struggled for years to sell any of its Rafale jets abroad, Dassault has recently scored several lucrative, high-profile contracts with Egypt, India, and now Qatar.
France's President Francois Hollande "spoke yesterday with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar... (who) confirmed his desire to acquire 24 Rafale fighter jets for his country," the Elysee said in a statement.
The agreement, which will be signed on May 4 in Doha in Hollande's presence, includes a firm order for 24 jets with an option on 12 other planes, sources close to the negotiations told AFP.
The contract is worth 6.3 billion euros, the French government said.
The deal with Qatar is a boost for Rafale's fortunes, and another victory for Hollande's government in exporting the French fighter plane after considerable efforts by his predecessors had come to naught.
Earlier this year, Egypt bought 24 Rafales in a 5.2-billion-euro ($5.8-billion) deal negotiated in just three months, prompting hopes in Paris that the agreement would act as a catalyst to unblock hoped-for sales to other countries.
India then followed suit this month by announcing the order of 36 Rafale jets during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to France.
The two sides had already been engaged in years of tortuous, exclusive negotiations for the sale of 126 Rafales, but these had been bogged down over cost and New Delhi's insistence on assembling a portion of the high-tech planes in India.
So India, whose airforce is in dire need of new jets to update its ageing fleet, placed an order for 36 planes while negotiations continue on finalising the initial 126-jet agreement.
- 'Source of pride' -
Dassault is also involved in talks with the United Arab Emirates, and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has recently hinted that these are evolving "in the right direction."
Malaysia is another potential client, with Kuala Lumpur expected to launch a tender for 16 planes.
Hollande said the Qatar deal was "the triumph of "French political leaders and diplomats... (and) a source of pride for the country."
According to a French defence ministry source, the deal was sealed April 21 in Doha between the Qatari leader and French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who has become a tireless salesman of the Rafale.
Though the jet's performance in conflict situations over Afghanistan, Libya, Mali and in international operations against the Islamic State organisation have earned Rafale sterling reviews, its reputation had until this year failed to prod a string of tempted foreign buyers from finalising contracts.
Since entering service in 2004, the Rafale has suffered six agonising near-miss export opportunities, including failure to close deals with prospective buyers like Brazil that had appeared to be in the bag.
The Rafale is a collaborative manufacturing effort between French groups Dassault, Thales and Snecma, and is slated to replace all France's current fighter fleet as older craft are retired.
The fighter is designed for use in aerial defence operations, strategic bombing raids, covering ground forces, marine bombardment and airborne intelligence missions, and is capable of carrying missiles from France's nuclear arsenal.
© 2015 AFP