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French perspective on the Rafale

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posted on Apr, 12 2008 @ 05:16 AM
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Hello to all,

I've been looking for a thread to post that, but there doesn't seem to be any recent discussions I could tape into.

Wayyyy back, someone regretted the absence of a french man to explain the POV of our country regarding exports, so with only 3 years delay (!) , here is some toughts about the plane from its native soil.

I am not an expert on aeronautics, or military planning, at best an amateur, but I hope this has not been thorougly discussed in the past and will be somewhat interesting. Please excuse any typo, I do manage an OK level in english but there is always room for improvement.

As a warning, my summary will be light on avionics and will focus on the political context of the Rafale program. I however believe this is relevant there, but if I am mistaken, I apologize to the moderators.

Firstly I think it is important to go back at the very beginning of the thing: Dassault is, much like the american companies, very well introduced in politics perhaps even more so that in the USA. Serge Dassault, son of the Marcel Bloch/Dassault (founder of the company) is an elected official (conservative) at the French Senate and a mayor. He is controversial on several aspects there, as some tought it was not possible for him to be a senator while being a mayor supplier of the military (This has been ruled out by the Conseil Constitutionnel -somewhat the equivalent of the Supreme Court- that deemed that it was not established that he was actually managing the Dassault company
Yeah sure!). As a mayor it is quite well known he never hesitates to use a little money to gain some support.
This is just an illustration of the political aspects of Dassault, which of course runs way deeper than that (Marcel Dassault himself was also a member of parliament): Marcel Dassault was buying toys to the young Jacques Chirac for crying out loud! The engineer were very good friends with Chirac father (a banker), with whom he was doing business.

Bottom line being that Dassault, besides being a major player in French defence industry, always had a lot of leverage.

The second important thing to mention, and I know that some Americans have a hard time understanding this, is the psyche of France. Much like the UK, France have a very large ego and "delusions of grandeur" due to its past and history. As such France does not want to be "bossed around" (It is probably a good or a bad thing) even though it might not be a realistic stance on many issues at the current state. This is a very general statement on the mindset of our country, it is obviously much more complicated than that, but I think it is true to an extent.

Since De Gaulle, France always boasted on its "independance", hence the somewhat weird relations to the USA since 1945 (NATO "withdrawal", and such).

I think everyone would agree here that defence is an important part of any country priorities and the necessity for a nation to control this sector, as it means you can keep on edge on the hardware and such, have your own R&D (which are very precious assets) and other things (there's also big money involved).
Basically, as it often did in the past, France decided to go down the "independant" path with the Rafale: both for political and economical reasons. France is a major arms dealer (4th or 5th biggest in the world today) as well, we will go back to that a bit when talking of the export of the Rafale.

Was it ill-advised? Would it have been more beneficial to jump in the Eurofighter program back in the eighties? At the time the Typhoon was supposed to be an air-superiority craft, and France wanted a multirole one, which in our national perspective would make sense as our Air Force needs some replacement.




posted on Apr, 12 2008 @ 05:56 AM
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25 years later, I think the question is still unanswered: In theory, Europe should work harder towards a united defense (in the field of armies and defence contractors. It is essential to keep some sort of independance and probably even necessary because of the heavy cost of any hi-tech weaponry and the budget restraints in that field.
However, the various problems encountered by the Eurofighter program (in which case France non-involvement didn't help, point granted) or the F-35 makes you wonder...

Then again, the French approach is currently showing its limitations: Building its own carrier, subs, battle tanks and aircrafts alone is very expensive... too expensive in fact to be sustained correctly by a single country. Especially when exports do not follow.

I think the Rafale is a good plane that is probably well designed to do what it was intended to do (I won't go into that comparison nonsense with other models), and I believe that his current failure on foreign market has little to do with its quality (or lack of).

Simply put, while the F22, F35, Rafale, or Typhoon are beautiful toys, they are way too much expensive and even "sophisticated" for most foreign clients (Yes I know the F22 is not really up to be sold per se). I do not doubt that other countries would like such gear but the bottom line is generally that they will buy F16, F18, Migs or Sukhoi which are much more cost efficient, have a longer track record, and can/will be maintened and upgraded more easily. Even though the prospect of a large, non-assymetric conventional war do exist in some parts of the planet, those type of weapons are a real luxury so far: I think the type of purchasing the Indian Air Force do show my point.

I know this will sound like circular reasoning to some, but what hurts the Rafale on the foreign market is the absence of sales to other countries. If Dassault was able to nail a command, it would probably make the plane more cost efficient, but so far this type of gear is only likely to be bought by some wealthy (mostly Middle Eastern) state (Which France is trying hard to convince, as they are long time buyers of French hardware).

Dassault are indeed quite desperate to get a command, to the point that France is pushing it to Lybia: even though Khaddafi is technically no longer a "foe" of Western countries, and that arms dealing is a cynical world, it is still somewhat shocking to me.

IMHO the Rafale is in sort of a middle ground: while it is still one of the cheapest options at a modern fighter plane, it is still too costly. Dassault was hoping to have the same success that with the Mirage 2000 on foreign sales, and in a way those foreign sales were probably expected to help lowering the cost of the Rafale so that France could afford to purchase it as the overhaul of its Air Force as its polyvalent nature come from the need to replace several types of specialized older models in our army.

On the whole, the problem lies really in a major structural problem in defence industries worldwide since the end of the Cold War: Even the USA is irking at the actual cost of its latest plane, despite the fact that it is "needed".

So basically this is the end of the post and I am a bit unsatisfied about the conclusion. A bit too much random, probably. I nevertheless hope I was able to deliver an interesting point of view on some of the "deeper" reasons why France went down the way of the Rafale and how this approach makes up for the current difficulties of this aircraft on the market.



posted on Apr, 12 2008 @ 01:14 PM
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Well I think that France is stuck with the plane as Britain will not let BAE die France has to keep Dassault at all costs. I think a more sensible way for Dassault will be to stop making full Airplanes and develop components to them. Also we have to remember that they provide the most popular plane design software (CATIA) to Boeing, Airbus, etc., so they clearly know their stuff.

But like all unsustainable situations one day it has to stop but like a lot of other problems in France from saying it to doing it is a loooong way.



posted on Apr, 12 2008 @ 01:34 PM
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Indeed. But I think the unsustainable situation applies to many advanced aircraft projets, if not all. Despite the huge tool on most nations spendings, it seems a lot of countries (and even the USA, which have the biggest funds in that matter) have some difficulties coping with the new reality (ie: no more Cold War).

The Rafale may be the last French plane of its kind, "purely" national and the result of a very specific mindset. From now on, the European union will have to seriously consider working on an integrated defense (army and defense contractors) to try to make the whole thing more efficient for less money.

I am myself a bit fearful regarding french army status: just like most countries, there seem to be a major problem in refitting them with modern gear completely. Sure it is nice to have Rafale and Typhoon, but if you can't actually supply the troops...

Then again, who knows? Maybe Dassault will finally get some contracts on exports? So far can't really be too optimistic on that front.



posted on Apr, 12 2008 @ 02:49 PM
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The reason behind the Rafale can be traced back to one single decision - the Eurofighter project group deciding not to pursue a carrier variant of their aircraft. France was the only country that required a carrier variant, so they split off and went their own way.

The result was the Rafale.



posted on Apr, 12 2008 @ 04:25 PM
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Originally posted by RichardPrice
The reason behind the Rafale can be traced back to one single decision - the Eurofighter project group deciding not to pursue a carrier variant of their aircraft. France was the only country that required a carrier variant, so they split off and went their own way.

The result was the Rafale.


Richard Price:

Yes, I do maybe tie in some "nation psychology" mumbo jumbo to this decision. However, I have often seen this affirmation that the decision for Rafale was mostly based on its "carrier compliance". I must say, in my relative ignorance to the subject, that it might be true. But I have honestly a rather hard time to believe it, because the whole french AF needs an overhaul and the Rafale was destined quite soon to replace many different aircraft, and not just the ones operating on carrier(s). Dissensions with other European partners seemed to have been related on various issues about the nature of the aircraft, including this carrier A/C thing.

Moreover, while the root of the problem may be practical, I think that such an important decision (backing out of a large cooperation project) couldn't have been taken politically just on that ground. In general, and regarding weapons and defence, France always played its wildcard and favored to do thing its own way given the chance.

But once more, maybe I do over-analyze this.



posted on Apr, 12 2008 @ 06:03 PM
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Originally posted by Laeke
Richard Price:

Yes, I do maybe tie in some "nation psychology" mumbo jumbo to this decision. However, I have often seen this affirmation that the decision for Rafale was mostly based on its "carrier compliance". I must say, in my relative ignorance to the subject, that it might be true. But I have honestly a rather hard time to believe it, because the whole french AF needs an overhaul and the Rafale was destined quite soon to replace many different aircraft, and not just the ones operating on carrier(s). Dissensions with other European partners seemed to have been related on various issues about the nature of the aircraft, including this carrier A/C thing.


Right up until the point at which a carrier variant was dismissed by the Eurofighter working group, France was a major player.

Dassault joined the European Combat Aircraft studies group in 1979, and this eventually migrated to the Future European Fighter Aircraft studies group in 1983 - in 1984 France reiterated its requirement for a carrier capable variant, and the rest of the group withdrew support. Dassault withdrew from the group and went on to build the Rafale, which covered the needs of all of Frances air fleets (land and carrier borne).

Right up until the point at which the FEFA group said no to a carrier variant, the Eurofighter *was* Frances prime upgrade path for its airforce.

France was going to have to procure a carrier capable aircraft from somewhere, to not have a carrier borne aircraft was simply out of the question - France is one of the only countries in the world to retain a full carrier capability, along with the US and Russia. Every other country has gone to VSTOL capable carriers utilising either the Harrier or just helicopters.

So, it was either buy the Eurofighter and upgrade them to carrier operations (which would result in a overall heavier aircraft and also a vastly decreased service life due to the basic fact that the Eurofighter is not designed to take the stress of carrier landings), buy another aircraft already carrier rated (the only option there is either the USSR or the US, and France was not on good terms with either of them in the 1980s) or .... build their own aircraft to their own specifications and needs.

Initially the Rafale project was to be just to cover the carrier borne variant, but Dassault put forward a design which could easily adapt to the several different roles at a lower cost - and so the Eurofighter and France went in their separate directions.

As it stands, France was basically correct in what they did - they got a very capable aircraft sooner than the Eurofighter became available and at a decent price (Rafale is around EURO 55m, and the Eurofighter is around EURO 85m at todays flyaway prices).



posted on Apr, 12 2008 @ 06:39 PM
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Thank you for your more detailed account on this.
As it stand, you can take my opening post as a sort of a background/context providing in broad terms on how France generally sees its defence approach, which could add to the practical, material reasons. Or shrug it off completely


We were not really lucky with this carrier thing heh, yet indeed I think it is a valuable asset (but the CDG really needs to spend more time at sea than in repairs).

You pointed out tha France weren't really on good terms with the USA at that point so they wouldn't have bought their planes: I think it runs even deeper than that, it seems to me that it would have been a major blow to the French decorum regarding defence, in a symbolic way (although France did buy Crusaders in the sixties for its carriers). Buying from the USSR was not an option obviously (I know France always was rebellious, but not to that point


You make good points on the fact that the Rafale was launched before the Typhoon at a better price. It is still hard to judge on the hindsight of that decision, but I think is pretty much forced to drink the whole bottle, so to speak, it will need to use the Rafale. As you said it, it's not like there are much cheaper solutions out there anyway (even discouting political context). I don't know how long the current Mirage planes are supposed to be still be considered good for service -their lifespan will or already was stretched a bit I suppose- for the bulk of our Air Force.



posted on Apr, 13 2008 @ 04:21 AM
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Richard, while I know that France was looking to replace its Crusaders and Super Etendards isn't that only part of the story? What about the French demands for project leadership, final assembly, all flight testing and all export marketing to be contained within France, which was completely unacceptable to all the other partners (as contained in a Flight report which I believe I still have somewhere)?


With our reluctance to invest in a carrier model we didn't want (wrongly in the long run it appears), plus the French demands for control of the entire project, a Eurofighter with France on board was never going to happen.

While it is true that Rafale appeared more quickly and cheaply this should not be taken as a sign of Dassault being 'better' than Eurofighter at building fighter aircraft, it is more a by-product of not having collaborative partners with whom you have to get the ok for every single decision etc and is why I wonder what might have been if the UK had the balls to launch the Typhoon alone in its original P.120 form.

Its like the Hawk and Alpha Jet trainers, only on a bigger scale, the latter took twice as long to reach service due mainly to its collaborative nature while Hawker Siddeley were simply able to get on with it.

PS while being close to Airbus you haven't been 'got at' by the Frenchies to believe it was all the other partners fault have you? Sacre bleu!


[edit on 13-4-2008 by waynos]



posted on Apr, 13 2008 @ 05:32 AM
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I think this is an interesting thread.

French nationalism is alive and well - a trait the US, UK and France all seem to share


But as has been pointed out, there do seem to be very real mission requirements that lead to the development of Rafale, beyond simple nationalism or cronyism.

Besides, it appears to be a very capable aircraft for France, even if foreign sales have not materialized.

As an American, I can say that high-performance fighters rarely make good economic sense, even if they prove to be just as capable as advertised.

I'm looking at you, F-22



posted on Apr, 13 2008 @ 06:55 AM
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reply to post by waynos
 


Yes, the nationalistic tendencies were there, they always are when you are talking about economies and large expenditure, but from everything I have read (both public and private) France would have settled for a joint role similar to what everyone ended up with anyway - if, and it was a big if, their technical requirements were met.

They weren't, so they built the Rafale.



posted on Apr, 13 2008 @ 10:46 AM
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Laeke, you mentioned that what hurts the Rafale on the foreign market is the absence of sales to other countries. I totally agree.

However, Dassault and French politics a largely to blame for that. I closely followed to fighter purchase decision in Austria from 1997-2005 (in the end, the Eurofighter made it) and I had a chance to talk to a high-rank person from Saab only a few weeks ago. What 've learned is the following:

The Austrian military sent a RFI (request for information) to several producers, among them Dassault (actually, not with the intend to purchase the Rafale, but the Mirage 2000-5...but that shouldn't matter). All aircraft manufacturers replied, hoping for new sales - except Dassault and France. Well, they actually did reply on a second request, stating that they "were not interested in any deal with Austria as Austria turned down their offfer for Mirage 50's in the 80's and didn't treat them respectfully enough" (not a quotation, but pretty much what they said). Even though the Eurofighter GmbH was not among the companies which were invited to send information (the EF was expected to be a way too expensive), they nevertheless did and eventually won the bid. No one actually understands why (something went on behind closed curtains on the political scene that no one really knows) but in the end, the Eurofighter GmbH was also quite flexible with the price in order to nail the first export-deal.

Recently, the Rafale was offered to countries like Morroco. There, they went in with a price tag far beyond what is reasonable and affordable for a country like Morocco, and remained stubburn in price negatioations, instead pointing out the "close cultural and political relations" blablabla...with that attitude YOU WILL NEVER SELL A PLANE ABROAD!

Same thing happened with the Saab Gripen in the beginning, when they tried to convice Finland to purchase the Gripen...."as neighbores with close relations"...they learned their lesson, Dassault, I'm afraid, never will.....

In order to achieve a brakethrough on the export market, they need to put their French ego aside for a moment and really offer the best solution for the CUSTOMER, not for itself! Cause let's be realistic: Although the Rafale is probably a good fighter, the first one or two countries that decide to purchase the Rafale are doing Dassault a favour, and not the other way around....



posted on Apr, 13 2008 @ 11:32 AM
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Originally posted by Etoski
In order to achieve a brakethrough on the export market, they need to put their French ego aside for a moment and really offer the best solution for the CUSTOMER, not for itself! Cause let's be realistic: Although the Rafale is probably a good fighter, the first one or two countries that decide to purchase the Rafale are doing Dassault a favour, and not the other way around....


I totally and utterly disagree - exports are the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. Why shouldn't Dassault offer the best solution for itself? It is, after all, a business and it has money to make - if it prices the aircraft at a certain point, its done that for a reason and to go any lower may impact Dassault themselves.

As for the Austria deal, it happens all the time - quite often you see RFIs going out to companies that have zero chance of getting the end contract, but are simply used as a price bargaining point. Dassault refused to offer based on this happening before. Its a very common tactic, especially in the civil market but it is widely used in the military market as well.



posted on Apr, 13 2008 @ 01:03 PM
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I think I am not informed enough on this to form a correct opinion: I wouldn't be that surprised that Dassault would have a french ego, however they did try to offer the plane in several competitions and they doesn't seem like the worst salesmen out there. Regarding unrealistic price tag, I would suggest from my little point of view that maybe there was maybe no real margin to down that: either because it would set a very bad precedent for other markets, or that the thing is sold at a somewhat "fair" price already. Considering how desperate we are to sell the thing for quite some time now, concessions should already been made by now?

Crux of the matter being maybe (as I postulated originally, and which I have often seen brought up before) that those last generation plane are inherently a tad too pricey to begin with.

But please do correct me if you feel it is needed. I do appreciate the input by everyone.



posted on Apr, 13 2008 @ 02:11 PM
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I remember that the Marine Nationale evaluated and was internally inclined to adopt the F/A-18 as an Etendard/Crusader replacement back in the mid-80's.

But, alas, with the Rafale program just getting underway and the political decision being made that it was going to be a universal aircraft for all services, the idea of the French Navy to just buy Hornets and get on with business was a non-starter. Those 60-odd aircraft in question for the MN, to a program as small yet as expensive as the Rafale is, could have been the breaking point for all buyers involved.



posted on Apr, 13 2008 @ 03:22 PM
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I would suggest that in buying the Rafale in place of the F/A-18, the Aeronavale got it right.

Richard, maybe you are right that France would have accepted parity with Germany and the UK, from what I have seen that wasn't the case but ifs and maybes are unprovable eiter way, part of the reason, as I read it at the time, was the gradual transformation of the Jaguar from a Breguet project firstly to a Breguet project with BAC cooperation and ultimately to a 'British' aircraft that competed for export orders against the Mirage and won them, all of which left a nasty taste (like snails perhaps).



[edit on 13-4-2008 by waynos]



posted on Apr, 14 2008 @ 11:25 AM
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Well, the simple question is then,
Why did the Rafale not get the overwhelming international thumbs up that the Mirage 2000 got?
One would presume that the popularity would have passed on from this Gen to the other. After all, you can only improve from what you've built before?
Is it the prevalence of other relevant factors like more competing fighters, or is this a marketing failure?
There are numerous instances of nations requesting Mirage 2K5s or even 2K9s(?) instead of the Rafale.

As for prospective Rafale sales in the future?
Well there a couple of possibilities in the Indian subcontinent still:
1)The ~120 fighter requirement for the IAF,
and
2)a possible requirement for the PAF to replace its ageing (god they're old!) Mirage IIIs. A requirement of 20-30 units there maybe(?), not more for sure.
The JF-17 and the J-10 are near to closing that requirement as well though.



posted on Apr, 14 2008 @ 02:21 PM
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Originally posted by Daedalus3
Well, the simple question is then,
Why did the Rafale not get the overwhelming international thumbs up that the Mirage 2000 got?
One would presume that the popularity would have passed on from this Gen to the other. After all, you can only improve from what you've built before?
Is it the prevalence of other relevant factors like more competing fighters, or is this a marketing failure?
There are numerous instances of nations requesting Mirage 2K5s or even 2K9s(?) instead of the Rafale.


I wouldn't have too much hope on the reputation being passed on, as you say yourself, a lot of countries would have been interested in a "new" Mirage 2000, as a more cost efficient, including ease of maintenance and the habit of the pilots, solution. The Rafale is probably too expensive for its own good (as I said in former posts): Customers tends to favor cheaper, older and more "proven" planes and you can't really blame them really. Then again, it didnt stop the Typhoon from scoring some export sales, so it could be argued that the marketing (or the political reach) is not as good or dropped the ball somewhere.

It could also be that the Rafale is an inferior design or that it doesn't suit the needs of its potential customers (after all, the general design of the plane was carrier compliant, which was important for France but is of little interest to most foreign buyers, if not all).

[edit on 14-4-2008 by Laeke]



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