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French Rafale Wins First Export Sale


It is finally signed! Nearly three decades after its first flight -– but only three months since talks between France and Egypt began -- the Dassault-built Rafale has garnered its first export sale.

So far, few details of the contract signed Feb. 16 in Cairo have emerged. What we know is that the Egyptian air force is buying 24 of the multi-role fighters, including 16 two-seater and eight single-seat jets. A FREMM frigate, built by French shipbuilder DCNS, is also in the offing, as are a number of missiles. These include MBDA Mica air-to-air and Scalp long-range missiles, Sagem AASM precision-guided bombs and Lacroix decoys.

The contract, which is estimated at €5.2 billion ($5.9 billion), is backed 50% by France's export credit agency Coface, thanks to a pool of French banks. The financing excludes a €500-million downpayment that Cairo will pay by mid-March.

The first three aircraft, to be taken out of the Dassault production line, are to be delivered before summer, in time for a parade celebrating the August inauguration of the Suez Canal expansion. Despite the short notice, French officials say they will manage to train Egyptian pilots in advance of the affair.

The Rafale's first export sale is a relief for the manufacturer and its supply chain, not to mention the French defense ministry, which needs to see 40 of the aircraft exported before 2019 in order to avoid busting an annual defense budget cap of about €31 billion.

The sale also gives Dassault added leverage in talks with Qatar, which has shown interest in the Rafale, and India, which despite favoring the fighter over other European, U.S. and Russian competitors in a 2012 downselect has yet to sign a deal with the Saint-Cloud-based aircraft manufacturer.

The contract is also a coup for French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, a socialist whose relationship with Egyptian president Abdel el-Sisi has drawn accolades from the administration of French president Francois Hollande.

Le Drian is expected to arrive Feb. 21 in Abu Dhabi for the IDEX air show, where he could advance talks with Qatar for a possible 36-Rafale deal.

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