The European arms consortium Eurofighter has been invited to brief officials from the United Arab Emirates on the Typhoon combat jet, manufacturers said, in a surprise overture likely to disappoint France as it tries to finalise a sale of the Rafale.
A spokesman for the consortium from Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain confirmed a report on the recent briefing in industry publication Flightglobal.com, but declined further comment.
The publication said the briefing by UK officials took place in October in response to a request from the UAE, which has held long-running talks with France over a purchase of up to 60 Dassault-built Rafale fighters, Reuters reports.
The move was disclosed hours before the Dubai Air Show, where both jets faced off on Sunday in acrobatic flying displays.
A fighter deal is not expected at the show.
But the progress of talks on the Rafale and potential U.S. arms purchases by the UAE loom large, where marketers are expected to seize the chance to extol the performance of their respective weapons in Libya.
Dassault and UAE officials were not immediately available for comment.
France said in October it was in the late stages of talks to sell Rafale fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates.
Defence Minister Gerard Longuet said the two sides were in “final discussions” and a deal was “extremely probable.”
“It seems like a way of galvanising the process,” Longuet said in said in response to the Eurofighter report. “Everyone is doing is as one would expect. We are in a final stage of negotiations and the barest flicker of an eyelid can make a difference of about 100 million euros.”
The UAE has been in talks with France since 2008 over the purchase of 60 Rafale jets, at a price estimated at $10 billion, to replace a fleet of Mirage 2000s it bought in 1983.
The French company has still not found a foreign buyer for the multi-role Rafale, billed as one of the most effective but also one of the most expensive fighter jets in the world.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has handed the task of sealing a deal with the UAE to his foreign minister, Alain Juppe, in the hope of concluding something by year-end.
The Eurofighter is built by Britain’s BAE Systems, Finmeccanica of Italy and European aerospace group EADS on behalf of Germany and Spain.
Competition to sell fighters is intensifying amid rising security tensions in the Gulf and pressure on domestic Western defence budgets, which has prompted U.S. and European manufacturers to step up efforts to find exports.
French arms sales fell 37 percent to 5.12 billion euros in 2010, according to figures released earlier this month.