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France confirms sale of Rafale fighter jets to Egypt

A French Rafale fighter aircraft is catapulted off aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle off the coast of Toulon, southern France, on January 16, 2015
A French Rafale fighter aircraft is catapulted off aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle off the coast of Toulon, southern France, on January 16, 2015 AFP / Anne-Christine Poujoulat

France is to sell 24 Rafale fighter jets to Egypt along with a naval frigate and missiles in a deal worth more than €5 billion, President François Hollande said Thursday, the first time a foreign buyer has been found for the French-built warplanes.

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French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will travel to Cairo Monday to sign the final agreement with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Hollande said in a statement issued by his office.

“The Rafale fighter jet has won its first export contract,” Hollande said, confirming a report in French daily Le Monde published earlier Thursday that said a deal had been agreed.

“The Egyptian authorities have just let me know their intention of acquiring 24 Rafale planes, a multi-mission frigate as well as related equipment,” he added.

Eric Trappier, Chief Executive of Dassault Aviation

These last two items are believed to be a FREMM warship, currently used by the French and Italian navies, and a number of short and medium-range missiles built by MBDA.

The deal follows years of failed attempts by France to export the Rafale, described as one of the most effective and sophisticated fighter jets in the world, but also one of the most expensive.

A potential deal to sell the multipurpose warplanes to Brazil fell through in 2013 when the country chose jets made by Sweden’s Saab instead.

And although manufacturer Dassault Aviation, which launched the Rafale more than a decade ago, has been in exclusive negotiations with India for the last three years, a final deal has yet to be signed.

The French government has reduced its order for the planes to 26 Rafale jets over the next five years, down from 11 a year so far, putting Dassault under further pressure to find a foreign buyer.

Credit facility

A potential deal with Egypt was first muted in November last year during Sisi’s state visit to Paris, according to Le Monde, where discussions were held about replacing Egypt's fleet of 18 Mirage jets, also built by Dassault.

Though funding issues were believed to be a concern, French business daily Les Echos reported earlier this month that the two countries were discussing using a credit facility – arranged by French credit insurer COFACE and involving some of France’s biggest banks – to finance as much as 50 percent of the sale.

France has a history of military hardware deals with Egypt: as well as being the first foreign buyer of the Mirage jet in 1981, Cairo signed a contract last year to buy four French-built naval frigates in a deal worth €1 billion.

Concerns over the rise of jihadist groups in neighbouring Libya and in Egypt’s Sinai province have also seen the countries establish closer ties in recent years.

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