How US Helped French Rafales ‘Outflank’ Russian Su-35 Jets To Win Egyptian Fighter Jet Contract?

Egypt has finally signed a contract with France for the purchase of 30 Dassault Rafale fighter jets, in another success for the French aircraft against its competitors such as the Russian Su-35.

This is the second Rafale deal that Egypt has signed with France in five years. After signing the agreement on May 4, the Egyptian defense ministry stated that the procurement would be financed through a loan to be repaid over the next 10 years. 

For France also, this is the second Rafale deal this year after Greece signed a $3.04 billion agreement on January 25 for 12 second-hand aircraft and six new ones.

While the Egyptian ministry didn’t reveal the cost, investigative website Disclose said the deal was worth €3.75 billion ($4.52 billion). This also comes as a blow to Moscow, which was trying to pitch more SU-35s for the Egyptian Air Force.

The deal has come under criticism from human rights groups that have accused the Egyptian government of rights violations, which have even led to the US suspending arms sales for two years causing an estimated loss of over $1.3 billion yearly. The two presidents [of the United States and Egypt] haven’t spoken ever since Biden’s appointment in January.

But, French President Emmanuel Macron said in December 2020 that his government would not consider human rights as a major problem in dealings with Cairo. The Egyptian military has been combating violence in the Sinai region, but the authoritarian regime of Al-Sisi combined with unchecked military violence has raised worldwide concerns.

As the Americans started distancing themselves from the Egyptian military, Russia seized the initiative for its defense sales and both the governments agreed on a $3.5bn deal to supply Egypt with 46 Ka-52 attack helicopters and 46 MiG-29 fighters in 2014.

France also jumped in to sell its Rafales, and on February 16, 2015, Egypt became the Rafale’s first international customer when it officially ordered 24 aircraft, as part of a larger deal, including a FREMM multipurpose frigate and missiles, worth US$5.9 billion (€5.2 billion).

And most notably, the Egyptian government also signed a deal with Russia worth US$2 billion for “over two dozen” SU-35s.

Rafale vs Su-35 or CAATSA Dilemma?

Now, with the American help seeming a distant dream, the Egyptian government had got MiG-29s, SU-35s, Rafales, and Ka-52 gunships, and the American sanctions seemed ineffective in controlling Cairo over military spending.

And as the Egyptian Air Force required new fighter jets, the world keenly eyed the deal – whether it would go for more SU-35s or Rafales.

As an operator of both the SU-35 and the Rafales, the Egyptian choice towards the latter has surely made the defense industry more skeptical of the Russian Flanker. However, before jumping the gun, it is imperative to note that Cairo had been repeatedly threatened with CAATSA by Washington if it went for more SU-35s.

In 2019, then-US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned, saying “…if those systems were to be purchased, the CAATSA statute would require sanctions on the regime.”

The Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) imposes sanctions on countries dealing with Russia, Iran, and North Korea, whom Washington sees as hostile states.

Nevertheless, the Rafales with an advanced arsenal consisting of modern air-to-air missiles like Meteor, and even air-launched cruise missiles like the Storm Shadow and AASM Hammer munitions, can provide a major boost to firepower.

While the SU-35’s arsenal also consists of the capability of launching P-800 and Kh-59 cruise missiles, the Russian flankers are mostly used in air superiority roles.

Both the aircraft have been combat-tested over the skies of various Middle-Eastern and African battlefields, but the Rafales have outshone them in precision strikes.

The Egyptian Air Force

The Egyptian Air Force, much like other Arab countries, operate an interesting mix of aircraft, whose fixed-wing attack aircraft inventory includes the Su-35SE, Rafale D/E, MiG-29M/M2, Mirage 2000EM, the F-16A/B/C/D which form the main strength of the service, and the light attack craft Alpha Jet.

This mix of western and Russian aircraft is also be seen in its helicopter fleet. Egypt is perhaps the only country that uses both the Russian Ka-52 Alligator and the American AH-64 Apaches in service.

The Egyptians also operate the Russian Mi-17s, Mi-24s, and the American UH-60M Black Hawks and CH-47 Chinooks.