Missing at IDEX: Fighter Aircraft Deals
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Egypt’s decision just weeks ago to buy Rafale fighter aircraft has reverberated through the International Defense Exposition and Conference, but there was little indication at the event of how other ongoing fighter jet competitions in the region will shake out.
A Dassault Aviation spokeswoman declined to comment on rumors that Qatar and the company were in the final stages of reaching an agreement for sales of its Rafale jet. Citing an anonymous French source involved in the negotiations, Reuters reported last week that Qatar would buy up to 36 planes in the deal.
Meanwhile, Eurofighter — comprised of partner companies BAE Systems, Finmeccanica – Alenia Aermacchi, and Airbus Defense — had the most assertive presence at IDEX. The European conglomerate is ready to reopen discussions with the UAE, said CEO Alberto Gutierrez. Talks between the two parties collapsed in 2013.
“At this point in time we are ready to offer our proposal. We are much better prepared than where we were one year and a half ago,” he said Feb. 23 during a press conference.
Eurofighter is pushing to sell the Typhoon in the Middle East in Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Oman and Saudi Arabia are already customers. It is also focusing on potential customers in Europe and Asia, such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Denmark, Finland and Belgium, he said.
Despite intense competition, Gutierrez is optimistic that the company will secure more orders, he said. “Our forecast is ... of course we will get something.”
Eurofighter announced a $226 million NATO contract for upgrades that will give operators of the jet a suite of new weapons. The customer is NATO's Eurofighter and Tornado Management agency, which oversees procurement of the Tornado fighter for Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain. The contract was signed Feb. 22.
One of the upgrades is the addition of the Brimstone missile into the Tornado’s weapons package by 2017. The jet will be able to carry a mix of arms including: six Brimstone 2 missiles, up to six Paveway IV bombs, two long-range Storm Shadow missiles, four Meteor air-to-air missiles and either two IRIS-T or two ASRAAM heat-seeking missiles.
Dassault’s Rafale and Eurofighter’s Tornado face competition from Boeing’s F-15 and F/A-18 Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin’s F-16.
A contract announcement from Qatar and Kuwait is expected “in the relatively near term,” said Mike Coggins, Boeing’s manager of international business development. Both competitions have slogged on for years, but "I think they information that they need to make the decision.”
The UAE, Denmark, Belgium and Malaysia are other target markets for the company.
Even though the Super Hornet and F-15 were fielded before the Rafale and Typhoon, their capabilities are just as advanced and in some cases more so, Coggins said.
Compared to the Rafale, "the F-15 is a lot bigger jet [with] a lot longer range, a lot more capable of carrying a lot of stuff,” he said. The Eurofighter is now developing and fitting the Typhoon with an active electronically scanned array radar, which its competitors already have.
Lockheed Martin is focusing on upgrades for its existing customers in the region but is also talking to other potential buyers, said Rick Groesch, the company’s director of Middle East market development. Company executives have plans to talk to Qatar this week about its F-16V, the newest configuration of the aircraft that features Northrop Grumman’s scalable agile beam radar.
In the near term, Lockheed expects an upgrade contract from the United Arab Emirates as early as March, he said. The country is still hashing out its needs, but the contract would likely include refreshing the technology and supply chain of its Block 60 F-16s.
The company is also speaking to Bahrain about modernizing their planes with new radar and computers, he said.
The F-35 joint strike fighter, which has been purchased by Israel, is unlikely to make it to other Middle Eastern countries any time soon, said Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
"I understand the enthusiasm for the F-35. It's a terrific airplane, but I don't see near term transactions,” he told reporters earlier this week. U.S. fourth generation fighters are sufficient to meet requirements in the region, he added.