Julian Moxon/PARIS

The French Government is offering multi-year procurement of the Dassault Rafale fighter and the Eurocopter Tiger anti-tank helicopter as a sweetener to its demand for major cost savings in both programmes.

The Government proposal also supports setting up a single production line for the attack helicopter, instead of one in each country. Eurocopter Germany's Donauwörth site in southern Germany is the likely choice.

In an unexpected move, Jean-Yves Helmer, chief of the French arms-procurement agency, has revealed that up to 48 Rafales and 80 Tigers may be funded for production in one procurement - but only if there are guaranteed unit-cost reductions of at least10%.

The current scenario for Rafale procurement covers the purchase of 15 aircraft - 13 for the navy and two for the air force - for delivery beginning in 2001. There is also talk of a "half-squadron" of ten air force Rafales, to be built under private funding, to enable the aircraft to be offered for export (Flight International, 13-19 November).

Discussions now centre on who will pay the charges arising from the bank loan required to fund production. The multi-year procurement option would provide for the purchase of 12 aircraft a year for four years, although whether this would replace the private funding option is not clear.

Eurocopter executive director Jean-Pierre Dubreuil says that discussions on multi-year procurement of the Franco-German Tiger are "-very welcome-we have been asking for it for a long time". Under the plan, each Government would commit to multi-year procurement of 80 helicopters and, instead of being assembled in both France and Germany, Tigers would be put together on a single production line - saving up to 1.5% on programme costs.

The future of this programme, and of the four-nation NH90 transport helicopter, will be discussed at the Franco-German summit on 9 December. While a German final-assembly line for the Tiger seems virtually agreed, there is still disagreement over the location of NH-90 final assembly.

The helicopter is being developed by France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, and the original plan called for final assembly in each country, except the Netherlands (which requires only 26 aircraft). With France's requirement being reduced from 220 to 160 machines, however, coupled with the need to keep Germany aboard the programme, there is now some question over whether France will be able to call on a reciprocal final-assembly arrangement to balance the Tiger decision.

The multi-year procurement talks are running parallel to the negotiations on the Government-driven merger with state-owned Aerospatiale. The Dassault family has made it clear that it remains strongly opposed to the plan -unless it comes after the privatisation of Aerospatiale, in which case it has indicated that it could be a potential buyer for elements of the company following the sell-off.

Source: Flight International