F-15EX, Eurofighters & Rafales – Saudi Works To Develop Most Formidable Air Force In Middle East

It is a lineup of war birds that will make most of the air forces in the world envious. Saudi Arabia is negotiating to induct the four-plus generation Rafale fighter jet from the stables of French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation after a stubborn Germany put its foot in the door for the sale of the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Rafale, meaning ‘the gust of wind,’ will be a potent addition to the Middle Eastern Air Force, boasting a fighter lineup of European Eurofighter Typhoons and American F-15s.

Earlier, Qatar, another rich Middle Eastern country, achieved this array of war jets as it replaced its aging Mirage 2000 fighter fleet with Dassault’s Rafale, Boeing’s F-15 QA, and Eurofighter Typhoon.

The acquisition of 96 modern aircraft has been part of a massive modernization drive undertaken by Qatar since 2015. To add more punch to its air power, it is said that Qatar was eyeing the acquisition of F-35s from the US.

Indonesia, a southeastern country facing the looming threat of a rising China, will operate Rafales and F-15 EX concurrently.

With such a strong lineup, Saudi Arabia will soon join the few air forces to operate diverse range of warplanes.

The Eurofighter Typhoon seemed like a foregone conclusion for Saudi Arabia seeking to modernize its air force. However, Germany, a member of the Eurofighter consortium, on the sale of Typhoon to Saudi Arabia, cited human rights violations. Riyadh has now negotiated with French Dassault to purchase the multi-role fighter jets.

The French company has confirmed the development. If the deal goes through, Saudi Arabia will have one of the most advanced fleets comprising fourth-generation fighters – Rafale, Boeing F-15 SA, and Eurofighter Typhoons.

It will also dent the UK’s BAE Systems business. Saudi Arabia has been a traditional customer of BAE Systems.

Speaking to the Association of Defense Journalists, Dassault Aviation’s CEO Eric Trappier confirmed on December 5 that negotiations around a Rafale deal are ongoing with Saudi Arabia. This will be the first French fighter jet in Saudi Arabia’s inventory, which has traditionally sourced its war jets from the US and the UK.

Trappier conceded that Dassault is not getting unnerved by the fact that Saudi Arabia has traditionally bought British aircraft and said that the request for Rafales fighter jets was “independent of the crisis in the Middle East.” However, he admitted that the Middle Eastern conflict might slow the negotiations.

Saudi Arabia already operates Eurofighter Typhoons; hence, it was a natural conclusion that when buying more, it will opt for more Typhoons for ease of maintenance. BAE Systems was expected to broker the deal. All the partners in the multinational Eurofighter – UK, Germany, Italy, and Spain – need to consent to it.

The Olaf Scholz government blocked the Eurofighter’s sale to Saudi Arabia, citing concerns over human rights abuses, including the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemen war. This is the second veto of Scholz’s government against the sale of Eurofighter, the first one being to Turkey.

The German stance has been dubbed a “thorn” in the side of BAE Systems, aiming to finalize the ambitious deal for 48 Typhoons since 2018. The matter cropped up during the meeting between UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in 2023.

Germany’s aerospace firms have also made no effort to hide their discontent over Germany’s blockade of weapons sales. In October 2023, Airbus Chief Executive Guillaume Faury criticized the German government for its view on arms exports.

“The German government’s stance on arms exports to some countries is a real problem,” Faury was quoted by the business daily Handelsblatt. “If Germany wants to be a trustworthy partner in major defense projects, it must resolve the issue of export controls with the other Europeans and not despite them,” he added.

Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) Rafale fighter jets

Typhoon’s Loss Is Rafale’s Gain

The order will give a massive bump to Rafale’s export profile. It will cement its position in the Middle East fighter jet market.

Indonesia, the 8th buyer of Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, activated the second tranche of 18 French Fighter jets. The order is in addition to the 42 fighter jets it ordered earlier. This has been quite a turnaround story for Rafale, a fighter jet with a ‘French touch.’

The French role fighter jet Rafale struggled to find a buyer for a long time. Apart from the measly order from Egypt and Qatar, Rafale’s order book had nothing to boast about. Rafale, which means “gust of wind” in French, failed to win contracts from Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Singapore, and Switzerland. Its high price tag has been a significant deciding factor against it.

The twin-engine multi-role aircraft can carry out air-to-air combat or can drop bombs on targets in air-to-ground missions, and owing to its cameras, radars, and sensors, can be used for intelligence gathering. This, however, changed in the last ten years as Indonesia became the eighth user of Rafale fighter jets, besides the French Navy and Air Force, Egypt, Qatar, India, Greece, Croatia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

When the Indian Air Force (IAF), the fourth largest in the world, chose Rafale over Eurofighter Typhoons in 2012, it caused a windfall of orders for the French combat jets. Since then, the UAE has signed a historic deal for 80 Rafales.

The French fighter jet has already been deployed in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Syria, and Mali, where it flew its most extended mission in 2013, spanning nine hours and 35 minutes. Rafale’s stellar combat experience was documented in an earlier report of the EurAsian Times. From Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq & Syria, Rafale jets “outclassed” its enemies everywhere and have never-ever been shot down.

Dassault Aviation is developing a ‘Super Rafale’ F-5 paired with loyal wingman combat drones and new ammunition for suppressing enemy anti-aircraft defenses. Equipped with joint jamming radars and self-defense systems, the Rafale F-5 will create a ‘protective bubble’ for itself and other equipment that will go into the battlefield. The aircraft will evolve into a techno-system called “Club Rafale.”

  • Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
  • She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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