Could it really, really be true after all? Several sources have just confirmed that the Indian cabinet has agreed to the purchade of 36 Dassault Rafales in an 8.8 billion USD deal with France. A contract is said to be signed on Friday in New Delhi, which would concluded one of the most ridicilously long negotiations in defense history ever.
What really is true, is that a deal was said to have been closed several times before. What is also true, is that India has been eyeing the Rafale for much longer than Qatar and Egypt ever have, while the latter two ordered their Rafales last year. Dassault probably gave them a nice discount to lure India in further.
India was once in the market for up to 126 Rafales, but that option was deed to costly. Also, India wanted to produce the aircraft mostly in-country while France was hesitant the transfer the required technology. New Delhi meanwhile studied the Su-30 Flanker, F-18 Hornet, Saab Gripen and Lockheed Martin F-16 also.
It should be interesting to see how the final contract turns out. If there is such a contract, of course.
Despite having about 100 Dassault Rafale B/Cs in the Air Force inventory, France sees itself forced to keep its older Mirage 2000D operational to keep the ground attack capabilities of the Armée de l’Air at proper levels. It even wants the Deltas to drop below altitudes they were not meant to do when designed – learning from recent missions in the skies of Southwest Asia.
Dassault Aviation received the order – by French defence procurement agency DGA – to renovate 55 Mirage 2000Ds. The modification include weapon system updates, the gun pod and Mica missiles of the aircraft version of the Mirage 2000 that is especially adapted for ground attack.
The Mirage 2000D entered service in 1993 and is the “less terrifying” sister of the Mirage 2000N designed for nuclear strike. In fact, the aircraft are basically the same with the Delta used for long-range strikes with conventional Apache, Scalp and Mica missiles. The first flight of the 2000D was in 1991, roughly 5 years after the 2000N. Lacking an on-board gun, has proven to be a miss during recent combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya (Operations Harmattan / Unified Protector) and Central Africa / Mali (Serval, now Barkhane) and combating the so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria (ISIS / Daesh(.
Mirage 2000D operations
During the operations of the last few years the Mirage 2000Ds often flew with just a pair of 500 lbs GBU-12 laser-guided or GBU-49 gps-/laser-guided bombs and two external fuel tanks. Adding the gun pod means the French Air Force wants to add a more effective close-air support to the Mirage 2000D – something that the aircraft was not designed to do but may work well in low-threat environments. The new modifications are believed to have been mostly “inspired” by the recent deployments against ISIS / Daesh.
The newest French multi-role fighters Dassault Rafale B (two-seat) and C (single-seat) initially were introduced with air-to-air capabilities (F1) only. The latest Dassault Rafale B/C have been delivered in F3 standard (fully multi-role, including nuclear strike) but reportedly not all Rafale F1s have been fully upgraded yet to F3.
Mirage 2000D bases
French Air Force Mirage 2000Ds fly from BA133 Nancy/Ochey (France), BA188 Djibouti/Ambouli (East Africa) plus a pair normally deployed to Niamey/Diori Hamani in Niger in support of Operation Barkhane.
After 42 years, it’s all over for the Dassault Super Etendard in French service. The final flight was scheduled for Tuesday 12 July at Landivisiau airbase, close to the French Atlantic coast. In its career, the sea was familiar territory for the Etendard, as the type was also operated from French Navy aircraft carriers.
The final flight was performed in front of hundreds of spectators at Landivisiau. Only five jets remained in service until the very end, although a significant number of Etendards still participated in operations against co-called Islamic State forces untill recently, flying from a French carrier.
Less known is the fact that France leased some Etendards to Iraq in the Eighties. Iraq then used the aircraft to employ the feared Exocet anti-shipping missiles at Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf. The jets eventually returned to France,
The Dassault Rafale of course replaces the Etendard in French service, with several dozen already in service. The last Etendards will probably find their way to museums in technical schools.
The world’s last Etendards are now to be found in Argentina, which operates just a few aircraft. These jets earned their fame in the 1982 Falklands war.
Cash-low Argentina is so desperately seeking new fighter jets, that it is looking to put budget priced French fighter jets from the 1970s back in the air.
The defence minister of the Latin-American nation recently paid a visit to France, trying to have Paris agree to an affordable price tag for 12 Dassault-made fighter jets retired by the French Air Force (Armée de l’Air). Buenos Aires is looking for six Mirage F1s plus six Mirage 2000s, or a dozen of either one of the types. A 2013 deal with Spain seems to have hit the sand barrier somewhere.
FAM IA 58 Pucará
To Argentina’s main conservative daily newspaper, La Nacion, Mr. Julio Martinez also said he is hoping that France would like to provide new engines so that the Argentine Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Argentina) is able to bring 20 IA 58 Pucará ground attack and counter-insurgency aircraft back into the sky. Fábrica Militar de Aviones (FAM) produced 110 of these two-engine propeller aircraft between 1976 and 1986, with the type still operational in both Argentine and Uruguay.
Despite its known good operational status and relatively low cost for flight hours and maintenance, Buenos Aires is said not to seek purchase of the US-made Lockheed Martin F-16 that is flown – among others – by neighbouring Chile. An official reason for not buying the F-16 other that “not in the interest of the nation” has not been given. For some time even a wild story circulated that frustrated policy makers in the Argentinian capital were looking for a Russian bomber solution.
The Fuerza Aérea Argentina has currently no fighter jets on strenght, after the 22 remaining McDonnell Douglas A-4AR Fightinghawks and three (O)A-4ARs were grounded at Villa Reynolds Airbase in January 2016 because of the lack of spare parts and other airworthiness issues. Earlier the service decommissioned its Dassault Mirage III and IAI Fingers / AMD M5 Dagger units at Tandil Airbase. That leaves the nation with only 32 IA 58 Pucarás on frontline duty, of which many are down for maintenance.
The about two dozen FMA IA 63 Pampas (35 ordered) are not suited for combat, and the 14 remaining Embraer EMB-312 Tucanos can only be used for limited ground support and counter-insurgency operations.
Where’s a gas station when you need it? That’s exactly what’s going in the minds of a Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) KDC-10 crew as they look for the French C-135 Stratotanker that should be flying somewhere ahead of them. Seconds later, they find the French aircraft and move in closer. It’s an obvious metaphor for closing the infamous European tanker gap. The solution comes in two shapes: the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and the Airbus A400M.
Over the North Sea and to the crew of the KDC-10, that’s all distant music. As participants in the European Air Refuelling Training (EART) at Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands, they have just finished air-to-air refuelling (AAR) twelve F-16s that take part in action packed exercise Frisian Flag 2016. Somewhere ahead and beneath them, the French KC-135 also just finished refuelling fighter jets, as did the German Airbus A310 that’s also nearby.
That’s three air-to-air refuellers in the same patch of sky, a sight not often seen as tanker aircraft are usually hard to find in Europe. The overall goal of EART is to improve flexability, efficiency and effectiveness of the combined tanker force of all zeven nations (the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, France, Spain and Italy) that handed command over their assets over to the European Air Transport Command (EATC). From Eindhoven airbase in the Netherlands, EATC commands 19 tanker aircraft of various types from all seven nations. That number equals 65 percent of all AAR platforms available in Europe.
Compared to the hundreds of air refuelling aircraft available to the US, the European numbers fall far short, hence the ‘tanker gap’. However, that gap may soon be a thing of the past, given the increasing number of Airbus A400M available to France and Germany, plus Spain and Belgium in the near future. By 2025, EATC should have 80 or so A400Ms at its disposal, with roughly 40 air refuelling kits available for those aircraft. The new Airbus aircraft has been involved in AAR tests.
Moreover, the Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg and Poland are on course to jointly buy and operate the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). During EART, it emerged that a Memorandum of Understanding is to be signed during the NATO summit in July in Warsaw, with a contract for three or four aircraft to be signed that same month during the Farnborough Airshow.
The shared pool should grow to eight Airbus A330 MRTTs eventually. Belgium, Germany and Spain have already expressed interest in particpating in the program as well.
“EATC has been asked to harmonize A400M and A330 MRTT operations in the future”, says Colonel Jurgen van der Biezen, a RNLAF-delegate to the joint European command in Eindhoven. “What we are looking for, is an air-to-air refuelling hub that is very similar in operation to the European Heavy Airlift Wing operating from Hungary.”
Introducing the A400M and A330 MRTT as tankers increases EATC’s refuelling fleet to 69 assets, equal to 82 percent of all similar capacity in Europe. It’s a signifant increase compared to today’s situation, an increase that enables European nations to support their own – plus each other’s – operations.
It’s an idea that gets the thumbs up from all within EATC, just like the thumbs up shown by the crew of a Dutch KDC-10 tanker over the North Sea. They successfully performed some formation flying with the other two tankers in the same patch of sky. After leaving the formation, they are on their own again. But with a different feeling this time. There are others out there.