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France enters talks with Saudi Arabia for potential sale of 54 Rafale fighter jets

25th October 2023 - 13:05 GMT | by Norbert Neumann in London


The deal for 54 Rafale fighter jets between Saudi Arabia and Dassault could reach nearly US$8 billion. (Photo: Dassault Aviation)

Saudi Arabia had officially requested a detailed quote from Dassault for 54 Rafale fighter jets, with a deadline of November 10 for a response. The estimated cost for the deal could rise to nearly US$8 billion.

The French government has entered talks with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) regarding the prospective sale of 54 Dassault Rafale fighter jets, according to the European country's defence minister.

Without providing any details, Sebastien Lecornu told reporters that there were ‘discussions’ between Dassault Aviation and Saudi Arabia.

French newspaper La Tribune reported that the KSA has officially requested a detailed quote from Dassault, which has until 10 November to respond.

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Considering the inflation, an average Rafale costs about US$124.95 million in 2023 values, based on the French budget documents reporting the average cost of Rafale B at €74 million ($98.2 million) in 2013 values, excluding the development costs. Based on these estimates, the flyaway cost of a fleet of 54 Rafales could soar to $7 billion. Adding maintenance and logistic support, the deal could reach nearly $8 billion.

Shephard reached out to Dassault regarding the discussions with the KSA, but company representatives were not immediately available for a comment.

Challenges for Eurofighter sales to Saudi Arabia 

This development followed Germany’s decision in July to maintain its export block on Eurofighter multirole fighter jets to the kingdom. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on 12 July that ‘there will be no decision on the delivery’ of the jets to Saudi Arabia ‘any time soon’.

Government sources said at the time that a decision would not be made until the next German election, after 2025.

An internal government document referenced by German newspaper SZ also noted that ‘applications for export licences for Saudi Arabia will be postponed until the end of the war in Yemen’.

Germany has refused to issue arms export licenses to the KSA because of its involvement in the Yemen war and the killing of US-Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In 2018, the UK and Saudi Arabia entered into a memorandum of intent outlining the addition of nearly 50 jets to Saudi Arabia's existing fleet of 72 Typhoons. Subsequently, arms sales to Saudi Arabia were halted by the UK in 2019, but clearance for these sales was ultimately granted in mid-2020.

The prospect of 54 Rafale jets sale to Saudi Arabia has the potential to enhance France's presence in the Middle Eastern defence market and further solidify the Rafale's status as a coveted combat aircraft within the region.

Other countries in the region that procured the French Rafaele fighter are Egypt, Qatar and the UAE.

Saudi Arabia has primarily bought UK- and US-made aircraft in the past and currently operates F-15s and Eurofighter Typhoons.

The discussions between Dassault and the KSA do not necessarily mean that the kingdom is ready to abandon its Eurofighter aspirations. From an operational and interoperability perspective, the Eurofighter would be a slightly better option for the Middle Eastern country. 

Should the Typhoon sale to Saudi Arabia not materialise, Eurofighter GmbH's ambition of selling 150-200 jets in the next few years is likely to be shattered. 

Dassault Rafale 

The Rafale is a delta-wing agile aircraft with forward canards, which allow for short landing and slower speeds, powered by two Snecma M88 engines. The aircraft has three major variants – B (two-seat), C (single-seat) and D (improved stealth) – with derivatives of these as well as the carrier version Rafale M which has an improved structure, a tailhook and different subsystems.

Development of the Rafale multirole fighter began in the mid-1980s after France pulled out of the Eurofighter Typhoon programme when it became clear the latter aircraft would not be suitable for carriers. 

Even before its withdrawal from the pan-European programme, France had been working on designs, and in July 1986, a demonstrator aircraft Rafale A made its first flight.

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Norbert Neumann


Norbert Neumann

Norbert is the Aviation, Military Training & Simulation reporter at Shephard Media. Before joining Shephard in …

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