FRANCE'S CONTINUING defence review will result in lower production rates and delayed deliveries for the Eurocopter Tiger attack helicopter, the NH Industries NH-90 military utility helicopter and the air force's Dassault Rafale combat aircraft, say senior industry officials.

Although any delay is unwelcome, such an outcome would still be a better result than expected for defence contractors Eurocopter and Dassault. The NH-90, in particular, has looked vulnerable to cancellation as France struggles to curtail its defence expenditure.

Jean-Francois Bigay, Eurocopter president, confirms the growing confidence to be found in the Tiger and NH-90 programmes. Initial deliveries of the maritime version of the NH-90 are due in 2002-3, to meet German and Dutch requirements. French deliveries, however, will be delayed.

Dassault is proffering a compromise delivery schedule to the air force in an attempt to keep export prospects alive for its Rafale combat aircraft.

Senior air force officials have been considering whether to delay delivery of the Rafale in favour of an additional purchase of Mirage 2000-5 aircraft.

Rafale deliveries would then begin at the end of the first decade of the next century.

Serge Dassault, Dassault chairman, says: "Should deliveries to the French navy be followed by an order for at least a squadron of 20 aircraft for the air force, we are prepared to accept a shift in the deliveries to the Armee de l'air."

In accepting such a "compromise", Dassault adds that the company is: "Banking on export orders to maintain our workload pending fuller French [air force] orders."

Source: Flight International