Dassault Aviation chairman and chief executive Eric Trappier has questioned the attitude of European governments toward defence procurement, as the company has joined forces with two of the continent's other leading manufacturers in again advocating the joint development of a new unmanned air system.
"It seems as if there is a Buy-American policy at any cost," Trappier said at a pre-Paris air show briefing at Dassault's headquarters in St Cloud on Friday, responding to questions about the future prospects for the Rafale fighter. "It is a problem that European governments seem to always want to buy American," he said, using backing for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as an example. Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and the UK are full partners with a share of work on the US project.
Trappier, who succeeded Charles Edelstenne as the head of the French manufacturer in January, was also critical of the French and British governments for their lack of commitment to joint UAS development. "We worked with BAE Systems and had MoUs for development and were confident we could be ready for 2020. But then the government support for the start of the development phase never happened. This is a problem for Europe," he said.
Two days later, Dassault issued a joint statement with Alenia Aermacchi and EADS company Cassidian that called for the launch of a collaborative project to deliver a future medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned system.
"Such a joint programme would support the capability needs of European armed forces while optimising the difficult budgetary situation through pooling of research and development funding," and sustain "key competencies and jobs within Europe," the companies said. Their initiative excludes BAE.
Pointing to the Rafale's operational performance and "proven technology" over Libya and Mali, Trappier noted: "There are some problems with the F-35 programme in delivering the technology and the budget. The F-35 will be operationally expensive and so I am happy. Some countries are reviewing their plans."
Dassault is undertaking a sales campaign in Canada, and Trappier said its prospects with the nation are "significant". The company began talks with the Canadian government in January after criticism of the mounting costs for the F-35.
"Canada was the first to raise difficult questions about the F-35 and we've been talking to them since the beginning of the year," Trappier said.
Denmark has also looked at re-opening the order process, but has not included the Rafale. The Netherlands too has been critical of the US programme's costs.
Trappier said progress was being made with a fighter bid for Malaysia and said he was confident that an order for 126 Rafales for India with a further 63 options would be ratified before the end of the year.
Brazil also remains a good prospect, Trappier said. "It has been a little bit asleep, but we have our advantage in waiting. We are happy to wait."
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