in Defence / Features

Rafale delays hold back the Wild Wolves progress

Posted 28 August 2018 · Add Comment

Jon Lake reveals that it’s good news and bad news for Egypt’s Rafales.

The first Egyptian Rafale squadron (34 ‘Wild Wolves’) is now fully operational and remaining aircraft will equip a new unit within the 203rd Tactical Fighter Wing ‘Storm’ at Gebel El Basur Air Base, about 85km north-west of Cairo.
However, Egypt’s plans for the wing have been thrown into disarray by delays to a planned follow-on buy of 12 more aircraft.
It was expected that the new batch would allow the formation of three squadrons each with 12 aircraft, or of two larger 18-aircraft units.
Despite this uncertainty, the Egyptian Rafales are in full operational service, and flew their first combat mission on May 26/27 last year, providing air cover for strikes against Daesh targets.
Egypt placed an order for 16 two-seat Rafale Bs and eight single-seat Rafale Cs in February 2015, though the Egyptian aircraft soon received their own designations; the two-seaters becoming Rafale DMs and the single-seaters Rafale EMs.
Deliveries began on July 20 2015, when the first three Egyptian Rafale DMs were delivered, allowing them to take part in the opening ceremonies for a new side channel of the Suez Canal, located at the northern side of the east extension.
These first three Rafales were originally built for the French Air Force as Rafale Bs, but were diverted to Egypt instead, following the removal of some French equipment.
The first two-seat Rafale DM built from scratch for Egypt left Dassault Aviation’s assembly line in mid-December 2016 ahead of delivery on January 28 last year, with two further aircraft built as Rafale DMs.
Dassault delivered only a single Rafale to France in 2017, but sent eight single-seat Rafale EMs to Egypt. Three went from Bordeaux-Merignac to Gebel El Basur on April 4 2017, with two more following on July 26 and three on November 28, all staged via the French Air Force’s Base Aerienne 125 at Istres-Le Tube.
Dassault had flown the first Egyptian Air Force Rafale EM single-seater on July 1 2016. Initial flight-testing was undertaken from Bordeaux-Merignac and then transferred to Istres.
By the end of 2017, the Egyptian Air Force operated 14 Rafales, of the 24 originally ordered. These were armed with Mica air-to-air missiles, and AASM Hammer guided missiles and were expected to receive MBDA SCALP cruise missiles.
Egypt has long planned to acquire 12 further Rafales and a contract aimed at converting Egypt’s 12 options into firm orders is believed to have been drawn up during Egyptian leader, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s, visit to Paris in October 2017. French Finance Minister, Bruno Le Maire, was initially reported to have been reluctant to agree to the sale because of the payment terms asked for by Egypt.
But, in the event, the order was held up by another, rather different problem, with the US refusing to clear the export of a key (but unspecified) component for the SCALP cruise missile.
In the meantime, Egypt is preparing to introduce 48-50 MiG-29M2 fighters into service. These lack the long-range strike capabilities of the Rafale, but if the SCALP issue cannot be resolved, the usefulness of the more expensive Rafale may be limited, and the need for 12 further aircraft will be hard to justify, despite the Egyptian Air Force’s long-standing links with Dassault (having flown the Mirage 5, and the Mirage 2000, as well as the Falcon 7X). The Rafale was procured precisely because it has strike capabilities lacking in Egypt’s other fighter aircraft types.
Another Rafale customer, Qatar, has successfully decided to buy 12 extra Rafale fighter jets as part of an existing contractual option, Dassault Aviation has confirmed. Qatar has provided a down-payment for the 12 aircraft, allowing Dassault to record the deal in its 2018 order book. The order came into effect on March 27.
Qatar’s original €6.3 billion ($7.8 billion) order for 24 Rafales was signed on May 4 2015, and included weapons and some training provision.
Dassault is increasing its production rate to two Rafales per month, double the recent rate, in response to recent sales to India, Egypt, and Qatar. The assembly line will, of course, still shut down for a traditional French one-month summer holiday in August.
 

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