The French defence ministry has confirmed a long-delayed follow-on order for 59 Dassault Rafale multirole fighters, after resolving a dispute with its manufacturer over who should pay for the replacement of obsolete electronics equipment.

Confirmed on 6 December by defence minister Michele Alliot-Marie, the 59-aircraft deal increases the French military's orderbook for the Rafale to 120 aircraft. The new purchase includes 36 Rafale C single-seat fighters and 11 two-seat Bs for the French air force, plus 12 single-seat Rafale Ms for the navy, which already has 10 of the aircraft in service. Deliveries will take place between 2008-12, with the aircraft to be produced in the multirole F3 software standard, which will introduce new armaments including MBDA's AM39 Exocet and the next-generation ASMP-Anuclear missile.

Additional suppliers to benefit under the deal, worth about €3.1 billion ($4.11) include European missile house MBDA, engine producer Snecma and Thales, which will supply equipment including the Rafale's optronics, RBE2 radar and countermeasures systems. Snecma will produce 118 engines in two batches for the 59 aircraft, while Thales says business secured in support of the Rafale this year totals c1 billion, which includes €100 million to launch development of the F3 software standard early this year.

The French air force has ordered 82 Rafales and expects its first frontline squadron to start operations with the type's F2 version in 2006. The navy's offtake has so far reached 38 aircraft. The services plan to buy 294 Rafales.

Dassault is also in the final phase of a contest to equip Singapore with up to 20 new fighters and hopes to secure its first export sale of the Rafale to the country, which is also considering Boeing's F-15Tand the Eurofighter Typhoon.


Source: Flight International