Production of the Dassault Rafale could continue well into the latter half of the next decade as the French manufacturer looks to add to the 110 aircraft already in its backlog.
It is already holding discussions with the Paris government about a fifth order tranche, designed to allow France to field an eventual 225-strong fleet of Rafales, says Dassault chief executive Eric Trappier.
Between them, the French air force and navy have so far received 148 aircraft, with deliveries of the remaining 32 now slowing to a trickle.
Dassault handed over six examples of the multirole fighter to its domestic customer last year and plans to deliver a solitary aircraft to the air force in 2017.
Three Rafales will follow in 2018, but then none in either 2019 or 2020, before deliveries restart in 2021.
However, output will not be significantly affected thanks to Dassault’s run of recent export sales successes for the type, netting a combined 84 orders from Egypt, India and Qatar.
Deliveries to Egypt have begun, with six handed over so far and a further eight to follow this year, with 10 remaining. Qatar will take its first of 24 Rafales in 2018, with India receiving its initial aircraft from a 36-unit order the following year.
Trappier believes it can capture hundreds of additional sales, both from existing Rafale customers – India has already begun the process of acquiring 57 carrier-borne fighters for its navy – and operators of the Mirage 2000 who are looking to upgrade.
European nations with active fighter replacement programmes are another source of potential orders, he says, identifying Belgium, Finland and Switzerland as strong prospects, in the latter case as a replacement for its Boeing F/A-18C/Ds.
“Switzerland is going to change its position. After trying to buy a smaller aircraft [the Saab Gripen] they will buy the top of the range, which is the Rafale,” he says.
“I don’t see that the Swiss will return to the Gripen – the people voted against it, so it would be difficult for a defence minister to go back.”
Meanwhile, it is working with the French DGA procurement agency to define the specifications for the F4-standard Rafale, which would make its debut in the 2023-24 timeframe.
Enhancements are likely to include improved datalinks and communications systems, as well as new weapons configurations. The work will build on the F3R standard which will be fielded from 2018, and sees the integration of MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile.