Gen Jean-Paul Paloméros, chief of staff of the French air force, is confident about the Dassault Rafale's prospects in major international competitions, and partially attributes the aircraft's previous losses in Singapore and South Korea to politics.
"I've flown in the Rafale and I know what it can do," said Paloméros, speaking to Flightglobal at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition in Malaysia late last month. "Rafale was designed since conception as a multi-role aircraft," he added.
According to Paloméros, the Rafale is well suited to handle emerging air-to-air and air-to-ground threats in the Asia-Pacific region.
"The Rafale has very high manoueverability," he said. "It will be getting an AESA [active electronically scanned array] radar and it has good weapons. It will also receive the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile, offering extra range against any types of threats."
The AESA version of the Thales RBE2 radar will be introduced into Rafale in 2013, when French forces begin receiving the fourth block of production aircraft. The Meteor is still undergoing development, but should be deployed on the Rafale after the middle of the decade.
Paloméros is confident the Rafale will emerge triumphant in India's medium multi-role combat aircraft competition for 126 fighters, where it is on a shortlist with the Eurofighter Typhoon. Indian media reports suggest the decision is imminent, possibly before the end of 2011.
"The Indians are working on their decision," he said. "We have close contacts with India owing to the [Dassault] Mirage 2000. They are more than happy, and are upgrading these aircraft. They know French industry very well. I'm confident in this competition. They are real experts and did a great job evaluating the aircraft."
He added the Rafale is also well suited for Malaysia's 18-aircraft multi-role combat aircraft competition. A Royal Malaysian Air Force team visited France this year to conduct flight trials in the type. Paloméros said although the weather was "horrible", the visitors liked the aircraft and gained the opportunity to work with Rafale in challenging conditions.
As for the design's failure so far to win a foreign buyer, Paloméros said: "In Singapore the Rafale was in the final selection against the Boeing F-15, as was the case in South Korea's F-X I competition. The F-15 was a good choice for both countries, but its selection had a lot to do with politics as well."
He said the French air force is working hard to help pin down a Rafale sale in the United Arab Emirates, which recently stunned the defence aerospace industry by issuing a request for a proposal linked to the Eurofighter Typhoon and also spoke with Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The UAE has a long-running requirement to replace 60 Mirage 2000-9s.
"We are working very hard with the UAE. They have participated in operations over Libya alongside Rafale and they know what they want. In terms of capabilities, we are in the same room. As for negotiations, we'll see."