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China’s J-10 Firebird Looks To Eat Into Rafale’s Market As Many Nations Not Keen On US, Russian Warplanes

The upcoming Dubai Airshow 2023 is poised to witness a showdown between one of the world’s most popular 4+ generation fighter jets, the French Dassault Rafale, and one that is looking for a breakthrough in the international markets, i.e., the Chinese J-10C.

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This airshow, which will take place at the Dubai World Central from November 13 to 17, is regarded as one of the most prominent aviation events globally, providing a venue for a diverse range of commercial, business, and military aircraft. 

With an eye on the Middle East market, China is reportedly showcasing seven of its J-10C fighters at the Dubai Airshow. All seven multi-role fighter jets from the August 1 Aerobatics Team of the PLA Air Force took off from an unidentified airport in western China for the Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai on November 8.

Following a significant overhaul in 2018, this will be the J-10C’s first public demonstration in the Middle East. The warplane is also known as the Vigorous Dragon. This will be the first time the August 1 Aerobatics Team has been featured in the show since 2017.

China seeks to market the refurbished multi-role fighter jet to customers in the Middle East as part of its more extensive military outreach to the region when these countries are looking to shift to military platforms not manufactured by the United States or Russia.

For instance, Egypt has expressed interest in the J-10C as it looks to diversify its suppliers after an expected purchase of the Russian Su-35 did not go through. The timing of China pitching its indigenous fighter jet to the region coincides with several other arms deals in the pipeline.

Saudi Arabia wants to purchase unmanned aerial vehicles and air defense systems. At the same time, Algeria is known to have bought multiple Chinese corvettes along with various missiles and drones.

China has effectively been trying to replace the United States as the primary equipment supplier to the Middle East. Beijing’s growing ties in the region and its readiness to supply weapons more quickly and with fewer restrictions than Washington have led to an 80% surge in Chinese arms sales in the Middle East over the last ten years. 

J-10C China
File Image: J-10C fighter jet

It has helped Beijing in recent years since all has not been well between the Middle Eastern countries and Washington. It has been, thus, a perfect opportunity for China to market its most advanced 4.5th generation fighter jet to potential customers.

The J-10, dubbed the “Firebird” by NATO, is a medium-weight, single-engine jet fighter that can operate in all weather conditions. It’s the first indigenous sophisticated jet fighter made in China. In 2020, Pakistan became the first overseas customer of the fighter.

Rafales In Dubai

Dassault Aviation announced on November 10 that it would take part in the air show, with Rafale C combat aircraft and a Rafale F4 simulator featuring on the static display.

It also noted, “The Rafale will take part in the flying display every day, presented by the French Air and Space Force, which operates a Rafale detachment deployed at the UAE base of Al Dhafra.”

Rafale is a twin-engine fighter operating from an aircraft carrier or a land base. All combat aviation missions can be carried out by the fully adaptable Rafale, including air superiority and air defense, close air support, in-depth strikes, reconnaissance, anti-ship strikes, and nuclear deterrent.

With its advanced capabilities, the aircraft has somewhat swept the Middle East with orders. Except for the Lockheed Martin F-35, no other Western aircraft has received more orders for the Rafale in the last two years.

One of those most significant contracts came from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which had previously held talks with Washington for the F-35 but was able to replace it with an order for 80 Rafales instead. With this purchase, the UAE could surpass the French Armée de l’Air as the biggest Rafale operator. 

In addition to the UAE’s order, Qatar now has 36 in service and has an option for an additional 36, while Egypt has received 24 Rafales and has ordered another 30. 

The French manufacturer is still actively seeking customers for its Rafale. There are reports that both Saudi Arabia and Iraq have shown interest in the French aircraft. The latter has stated that it will eventually need between 100 and 200 new aircraft.

File Image: Rafale Fighter

Middle Eastern countries have traditionally shopped for military equipment from the United States or Russia. However, the Ukraine war and supply chain-related woes have forced them to diversify their military imports. This is where the French and Chinese defense manufacturers have found an opening.

At the Paris Airshow this June, Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier warned reporters that Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine could tip the scales in favor of his firm’s fighters. 

“Some countries do not want to buy Russian anymore, but also do not want American [jets],” he said. “So, France can be a traditionally slightly more neutral country.

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