Saturday, March 2, 2024

Will the Rafale be the heir of the Mirage III for the future of the French aeronautical industry?

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Fast, agile, powerful and well-armed, the ancestor of the Rafale , the Mirage III is undoubtedly a legend of military fighter aviation in the world. In the hands of Israeli pilots, Dassault Aviation's single-engine delta-wing fighter won against Arab MiGs and Hunters during the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars.

He played a decisive role in the victory of the Hebrew State during these two conflicts, adorning the aircraft with an aura of efficiency and performance which built its export success with 1,400 aircraft built ( Mirage III and V ), and which imposed Dassault Aviation fighters on the international market for several decades.

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The Mirage III/V was thus exported to 13 countries, its successor the Mirage F1 to 10 countries, and the Mirage 2000 to 8 countries. Each of these aircraft retained the key advantages of the Mirage III, namely high performance for a compact and economical aircraft to purchase and implement compared to the majority of American aircraft, such as the F-100 Super Saber and the F-104 Starfighter for the Mirage III, to the F-4 Phantom II for the Mirage F1.

The Mirage 2000 faced the Tornado, F-15 and F-18 for the 2000, even if the latter two suffered from the arrival of the American F-16 Falcon , precisely designed as a light and economical fighter. like French hunters, and not in the traditional Anglo-Saxon trend.

With the Rafale , Dassault Aviation took a significant risk, by targeting not its preferred field, high-performance single-engine fighters, but a versatile twin-engine fighter, a field in which the Americans and British had established themselves in the West for several decades, with the F-4 Phantom then the F-14, F-15, Tornado and the F-18, and while they were developing new models of this type with the Typhoon from the Eurofighter consortium, the F-22 from Lockheed-Martin and the Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet .

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After nearly two decades of lean times marked by resounding export failures against the F-16 (Morocco), the F-35 (Netherlands, Denmark) and even the Swedish Gripen (Brazil), the Rafale finally succeeded to convince its first three export customers in 2015, Egypt for 24 aircraft, Qatar for 24 aircraft (+12 options exercised in 2017), and India with 36 aircraft.

But the real consecration for the Rafale came in 2021, when Greece (18+ 6 aircraft) , Croatia (12 aircraft), Egypt (30 aircraft) and the United Arab Emirates (80 aircraft) announced their orders, followed in 2022 by Indonesia (42 aircraft) , making the French fighter the greatest export success of its generation, far surpassing the Typhoon , Super Hornet , Eagle II and Su-35, and transforming what was long perceived, even in France, as a costly failure, into a true international success.

Other countries are in negotiations with Dassault Aviation for new orders, even if the French manufacturer has learned from these failures, and remains particularly discreet on the subject.

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The Mirage III forged the image and success of the French aeronautical defense industry for several decades

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Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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