Uzbekistan has reportedly signaled keen interest in procuring Dassault Rafale multi-role fighter jets, presenting the possibility of France securing another customer for its advanced aircraft.
According to the French industry-specific portal Intelligence Online, citing French governmental sources, Tashkent expressed its desire for French aircraft during French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to the country on November 2, 2023.
During President Macron’s visit, discussions between the two countries expanded beyond specific projects in agriculture and uranium. The French President announced the development of a “strategic partnership” between France and Uzbekistan.
While the exact details of this strategic partnership were not elaborated, in Uzbekistan, the term “strategic” typically denotes the highest level of partnership with another country.
However, it seems that discussions during this diplomatic exchange included the potential procurement of Rafale fighter jets. However, the specific terms and funding arrangements for this aircraft acquisition remain undisclosed.
Nevertheless, this reported interest from Uzbekistan represents a significant diplomatic departure, considering the country’s historical alignment with and reliance on Russian military support.
Uzbekistan’s pursuit of the Rafale fighter jets aligns with its broader goal of modernizing its military capabilities, particularly its extensive fleet of combat aircraft sourced from Russia.
As of the latest data, the Uzbekistan Air Force is armed with 38 MiG-29 fighters, 20 Su-27 fighters, and 20 Su-25 ground support aircraft, all of which are of Russian origin. In 2019, the country submitted a request to the Russian Federation for the modernization of its fleet of MiG-29 fighters.
In recent years, Uzbekistan has diversified its military assets by acquiring European-made aircraft, including four Airbus C-295W light transport planes and a variety of combat helicopters from Airbus Helicopters.
Interestingly, Uzbekistan isn’t the sole Central Asian country seeking to transition away from Soviet-era aircraft. In late October 2023, neighboring Kazakhstan reportedly made efforts to auction off more than 100 Cold War-era combat jets.
This move suggests a broader regional trend among Central Asian countries to modernize and upgrade their military equipment.
Opting For Rafales Over Russian Fighters
Uzbekistan has traditionally relied on Moscow for the procurement of fighter jets, with previous plans indicating an interest in acquiring Russian Su-30 SM multi-role fighters along with ammunition.
However, the latest reports suggest a departure from this historical reliance on Russian jets, indicating that Tashkent is now considering French warplanes.
This shift is not unprecedented, as multiple nations in recent years have opted out of plans to acquire Russian weapon systems. The primary driver behind such decisions is the concern over potential US sanctions that the purchasing country might face.
Notable instances include the governments of Egypt and Indonesia, both rejecting the prospective acquisition of Russian modern Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets.
In the case of Indonesia, the country chose to enter into a deal with France’s Dassault Rafale for the procurement of 42 of these advanced fighter jets. This decision reflects a growing international inclination to explore alternatives beyond Russian military equipment.
Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier highlighted at the Paris Airshow in June that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has influenced the competitive dynamics for fighter jets.
Trappier noted that some countries are now hesitant to buy Russian aircraft and are also reluctant to opt for American jets. He suggested that France, known for its traditional neutrality, could emerge as an attractive alternative in this changing landscape.
Sanctions imposed on Russia have added complexity to Moscow’s ability to support its aircraft in service with foreign customers. Meanwhile, Dassault Aviation has secured numerous orders over the past two years, with one of the big contracts coming from the UAE.
The UAE’s order of 80 Rafale aircraft superseded negotiations previously held with Washington for the F-35, potentially positioning the UAE as the largest operator of Rafale jets after the French Armée de l’Air.
In addition to the UAE, Egypt has acquired 24 Rafales and has an order for another 30, while Qatar currently operates 36 with options for an additional 36.
Beyond the region, the Rafale has garnered orders from countries including India, Greece, Indonesia, and Croatia. Furthermore, Serbia and Colombia are among the potential customers expressing interest in the advanced French fighter jet.