French President Francois Hollande said Egypt would order 24 Rafale fighter jets, a FREMM frigate and related military equipment in a deal to be signed in Cairo on Monday worth more than 5 billion euros.
The contract would make Egypt, aiming to upgrade its military hardware amid fears the crisis in neighbouring Libya could spill over, the first export customer for the warplane, built by Dassault Aviation. It follows years of failed attempts by France to export the jet.
“The Rafale fighter jet has won its first export contract,” Hollande’s office said in a statement. “The Egyptian authorities have just let me know their intention of acquiring 24 Rafale planes, a multi-mission frigate as well as related equipment.”
Hollande, in Brussels for a European Council meeting, added that the sale accord would be signed in Cairo on Monday by Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
“It’s the first export contract for the Rafale. Up until now, only the French state bought the Rafale,” Hollande told reporters, adding that Egypt had been seeking “aircraft quickly, due to the threats that it faces…I believe that, given the current context, it’s very important that Egypt is able to act to uphold stability and to be in security, not only stability on its own territory, but stability in the region.”
“Dassault Aviation is greatly honoured by the Arab Republic of Egypt’s decision to equip its air force with the Rafale. This decision is a continuation of our cooperation that dates back to the 1970s, and has seen the Mirage 5, the Alpha Jet and the Mirage 2000 fly in the colours of Egypt. The Rafale meets the needs of countries that, like Egypt, demand a sovereign air force of the best level,” Dassault said on Thursday.
“I would like to thank the highest Egyptian authorities for this strategic and historic partnership. Dassault Aviation will be equal to the faith that they have placed in us yet again”, declared Eric Trappier, President and CEO of Dassault Aviation. “I would also like to thank the French authorities, which were behind the Rafale programme, and have provided the political support, without which we cannot make any military exports. I would also like to pay tribute to the skills and know-how of the 7,000 people who work on the Rafale at Dassault Aviation, Thales, Safran and for our 500 subcontractors.”
The contract would be the first overseas for the Rafale, 14 years after it entered service and three years after Dassault Aviation entered exclusive negotiations to sell 126 of the combat jets to India.
Delays in finalising the Indian contract are expected to be discussed at Aero India starting on February 18.
Dassault is also in negotiations to supply the Rafale to Qatar and under increasing pressure to sell the aircraft overseas. The company has struggled to sell the aircraft, with deals with Brazil, Libya, Morocco and Switzerland all falling through.
The French government said last year it would slow the pace at which it takes delivery of Rafale jets, to just 26 over the next five years instead of 11 a year.
The Rafale entered service with the French Navy and the French Air Force in 2004-2006, gradually replacing seven types of aircraft. It was deployed in Afghanistan (2007-2012), Libya (2011), in the Sahel-Saharan (since 2013) and in Iraq (since September 2014).
Paris and Cairo have enjoyed close economic ties in the past but turmoil in the north African state since President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011 left Western governments wary of signing deals, especially in defence.
With the rise to power of Sisi, ties have improved. Both sides are concerned by the rise of jihadist groups in Libya and Egypt.
France secured its first major military contract in Egypt in about 20 years in 2014 with a 1 billion-euro ($1.35 billion) deal to sell four DCNS Gowind frigates.
The Fremm is built by state-controlled DCNS, which is 35 percent owned by French group Thales. MBDA is a venture of Airbus Group, Britain’s BAE Systems and Finmeccanica of Italy.