F-35 Slayer: Did French Rafale Jets ‘Kill’ UAE’ F-35 Stealth Fighter Deal As It Looks To Acquire The ‘Ultimate Warplane’

The UAE’s order for 80 Rafale fighter jets validates the French fighter jet’s commercial success. With this agreement, the Gulf nation will become the largest operator of the Rafale jets after France.

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As previously reported by EurAsian Times, Abu Dhabi has inked a “historic contract” with Dassault Aviation of France to purchase 80 Rafale F4 fighter jets, the latest variant of the 4.5-generation combat aircraft.  

Eric Trappier, the CEO of Dassault, called it the “most important contract ever acquired by the French company.” The exhilaration among the domestic defense manufacturers is reasonable, given Rafale’s long struggle to secure such a massive deal. 

The Rafale contract is worth a total of $16 billion, including the cost of additional weaponry for the planes. These contracts are part of a wider $19 billion French arms package for the UAE, which includes 12 Airbus H225M military transport helicopters, earlier called Eurocopter EC725 Caracal.

French made Rafale. (Dassault Aviation)

The presence of French President Emmanuel Macron and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, at the contract signing, underscored the significance of the Rafale deal. 

Dassault, as well as Thales (which supplies all of the Rafale’s internal electrical systems), Safran (which supplies the engines), and hundreds of other subcontractors, will benefit from the deal. Furthermore, the deal also guarantees business for more than six years.

This contract is significant because it comes amid certain hurdles in relations between Arab states and the United States. 

The F4 variant planes will be supplied starting in 2027. The order to replace the UAE’s 60 Mirage 2000-9 jets, which were purchased in 1998, comes 10 years after former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s unsuccessful talks.

F-35 Deal In Limbo 

During the chaotic final days of Donald Trump’s administration (UAE) in November last year, the US government provided its clearance for a massive weapons deal.

The planned deal includes 50 Lockheed Martin F-35A fighter jets, 18 General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9B SkyGuardian unmanned air vehicles (UAVs), and a variety of precision-guided munitions worth around $23.4 billion.

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II (Wikipedia)

However, President Joe Biden is hesitant to move forward with the agreement. When he took office, Biden put the arms sale on hold.

This was prompted in part by accusations on the UAE and Saudi Arabia for their years-long war in Yemen. Recently, a senior US official said that Washington is fully committed to the deal but that there must be a clear understanding of “Emirati obligations”.

In the midst of the upheaval between the two allies, Russia is attempting to break into the Middle Eastern market by introducing the ‘Checkmate’, a new fifth-generation stealth fighter jet. Not too long ago, a high-level Russian delegation met with Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, fueling speculation about the UAE buying the Checkmate. 

Has Rafale ‘Killed’ F-35 Deal?

The resurrection of the Rafale deal, which dragged on for years is now seen as a roaring success. However, the UAE soon stated that its decision to purchase Rafale fighter jets from France will not obstruct ongoing talks with the United States over the F-35s.

The UAE’s acquisition of French Rafale fighter jets will complement its planned purchase of American F-35 fighter jets, which has lagged due to Washington’s concerns about Abu Dhabi’s relationship with China, according to the country’s Defense Ministry. 

The Rafale jets will replace the UAE’s French-built Mirage 2000 fleet, said Major General Ibrahim Nasser Al Alawi, commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defense, who made the comments late Saturday on state news agency WAM.

UAE airmen in front of a Mirage 2000-9 at the Dubai Airshow in November 2015. DASSAULT AVIATION

“This sale is not being viewed as a replacement for the upcoming F-35 deal; rather, it is being viewed as a complementary deal, as we improve our air force capabilities,” Alawi said.

However, experts believe the decision to buy the Rafale has its own advantages, the jet’s main selling feature is that it avoids any potential American embargo. It is preferable not to rely only on the United States for defense equipment in the event that Washington imposes trade embargoes. 

Both aircraft are characterized as multi-purpose or “omni-purpose” fighter planes. The Rafales are capable of establishing air superiority — the conventional objective of fighter jets – as well as bombing and ground-support missions during a single mission.

The F-35, on the other hand, is a stealth fighter jet, which can best be used for pre-emptive strikes. Going by the regional rivals of the UAE, Rafale should typically do the job for Abu Dhabi unless they want to bomb Iranian nuclear sites or fight Israel, an expert who did not wish to be named, quipped.