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France

French jet ‘yesterday’s technology’, said King of Bahrain

Text by Apoorva PRASAD

Latest update : 2010-12-01

A document in the Wikileaks trove released recently said that the King of Bahrain disparaged France’s frontline jetfighter as “yesterday’s technology”. Bahrain disavowed the comments Wednesday.

According to one US embassy document in a trove leaked by the whistleblower website Wikileaks, King Hamad of Bahrain called France’s frontline fighter jet “yesterday’s technology”.

On Wednesday, Bahrain officially denied the comments. A foreign ministry spokesman called them "inaccurate and taken out of context," as reported by the Bahrain News Agency.

The relevant US diplomatic cable is classified “secret//noforn”, meaning that non-US nationals should not have access to it. It contains the minutes of a Nov 1, 2009 meeting between King Hamad and US General David Petraeus in Manama.

The last point in the document concerns the inaugural Bahrain Air Show in January 2010. It states, “King Hamad asked General Petraeus for his help in encouraging U.S. aircraft manufacturers to participate in the inaugural Bahrain Air Show, scheduled for January 2010. He said that France was pushing the Rafale and would be there in force, although he agreed with Petraeus that the French fighter was yesterday's technology.”

The Rafale fighter is a multi-role 4 + generation jet fighter manufactured by Dassault Aviation, and France's replacement for the Mirage 2000. France is in the process of replacing its fleet of combat aircraft - naval and air force - with variants of the Rafale, which has also seen combat operations in Afghanistan.

Peter Goon, co-founder of Air Power Australia, an independent defence think tank, told FRANCE 24, “The Rafale is quite a capable aircraft. It’s right up there with the Gripen [SAAB] and the Eurofighter [EADS].

No international sale

But France and Dassault Aviation have been unable to successfully sell the Rafale to foreign countries. It is one of several planes currently under competition in India in a 10-billion-dollar deal. It has also been offered to Switzerland, Brazil, the UAE, Oman, Kuwait and Morocco; but it has yet to see an international sale.

In September 2009, Brazil announced it was in negotiations with France to buy 36 Rafales. But Saab's Gripen and Boeing's Super Hornet are also in the running, and more than a year later there has yet to be an official confirmation of a deal.

In an interview conducted by this correspondent several months ago, Dassault Aviation’s vice president for international markets, Jean-Pierre Chabriol, said that one of the reasons they had not been able to sell the Rafale successfully was due to the greater diplomatic clout that the US had internationally.

According to Goon, that translates to the Rafale facing a harder sell in foreign countries.

“I think that the commentary that’s being leaked through Wikileaks is more about what people are being told, as compared to what they know and understand,” he said.

Dassault’s official statement to FRANCE 24 on the issue was “the Rafale is the only multi-role plane in the world – that is to say, [one that can] fulfil all types of missions during the same flight (ground attack, air-to-air attack, reconnaissance). It is normal that the Americans worry about us; we are their principal competitor.”

Date created : 2010-12-01

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