THE INITIAL version of the Dassault Rafale fighter should be abandoned in favour of an advanced variant to be deployed a decade later than originally planned, according to French air force chief of staff, Gen Jean Rannou.

With the defence budget under extreme pressure, Rannou has told the National Assembly's defence committee that the initial variant of the Rafale (the SU1) due for delivery in 2000, should be dropped.

He advocates purchasing more Dassault Mirage 2000-5s and Mirage 2000Ds while pursuing development of an advanced variant of the Rafale, the SU2 enter service by 2010.

Another option floated by Henri Conze, head of the defence ministry's procurement agency, is to stick with the SU1 Rafale variant, and delay the advanced variant until 2020.

The French navy will still receive its first Rafales by 2000.

Source: Flight International