The United Arab Emirates has signed a contract covering the acquisition of 80 Dassault Rafale multirole fighters. The deal was inked on the sidelines of Dubai’s Expo 2020 on December 3 by Dassault’s chairman and CEO, Eric Trappier, and Tareq Abdul Raheem Al Hosani, CEO of Tawazun Economic Council, which is in charge of security and defense acquisitions. The ceremony was conducted in the presence of French President Emmanuel Macron, who was visiting the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Vice-Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
The deal is reportedly worth $19 billion, with deliveries of the first Rafales due in 2027. The deal also includes the acquisition of 12 Airbus Helicopters H225M Caracal utility helicopters.
“The sale of 80 Rafales to the UAE Federation is a French success story," said Trappier. "I am very proud and very happy as a result. I wish to thank the authorities of the Emirates for their renewed confidence in our aircraft. After the Mirage 5 and Mirage 2000, this Rafale contract consolidates the strategic relationship that binds our two countries and the satisfaction of the Emirates Air Force, a long-standing and demanding partner of our company.”
Trappier further commented that the order was “excellent news for France and for its aeronautical industry, for the entire ecosystem of 400 companies, both large and small, which contribute to the Rafale.” Guaranteeing thousands of jobs in the sector, the UAE deal is the largest contract ever obtained by France’s combat aircraft industry.
The UAE Air Force and Air Defence will receive the latest F4 standard of Rafale, becoming the first export customer to receive this version. The Rafales are expected to replace the Mirage 2000-9s in UAE AFAD service.
Dassault had come close to selling the Rafale to the UAE a decade ago, but the 60-aircraft deal was deemed “uncompetitive and unworkable” and the sale stalled in 2011, as did a subsequent attempt by the UK to sell the Eurofighter Typhoon to the Emirates. The UAE AFAD instead elected to upgrade its existing fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16s and the Mirage 2000-9s.
Following the Abraham Accords between the U.S., Israel, and the UAE, the Emirates was cleared by the U.S. government to purchase 50 Lockheed Martin F-35As, and a deal was signed on Jan. 27, 2021, on President Trump’s last day in office. The Biden administration subsequently “froze” the agreement in order to review overseas arms deals and, while later stating its intention to moving it forward, the sale remains bogged down—for now—in the quagmire of U.S. politics, due in part to concerns over China’s influence in the UAE, and guarantees over the security of the F-35 system.