What are the chances of Rafale in Saudi Arabia?

Le Rafale in Saudi Arabia, is this possible? A rumor, relayed by very well-informed journalists like Michel Cabirol from latribune.fr, had been circulating for several months. According to this, Ryad was actively interested in the French fighter, with a possible order, in the long term, for more than 100 aircraft.

For these sources, the Saudi authorities wanted above all a modern fighter to replace the approximately 81 Tornado IDS and 62 F-15C still in service, which was neither American, and even ITAR-Free to avoid any interference from Washington, and German- free, to use the expression then used, to no longer suffer the vagaries of the Bundestag.

However, until now, there was no indication that official negotiations had been initiated between Riyadh and Paris on this subject. Furthermore, the hypothesis was never mentioned, even off the record, by Dassault Aviation, unlike other prospects such as India (the 26 Rafale M of the Indian Navy), Serbia, Colombia or Qatar.

Fact, the information relayed by the same Michel Cabirol this weekend, according to which Riyadh had asked Dassault Aviation for a formal offer for 54 Rafale, obviously constitutes a major development in this matter.

Saudi Arabia's frustration over Typhoon and F-35A

The Saudi request is above all a response to the accumulation of frustration caused by the difficulties encountered in recent years in acquiring new combat aircraft from its two traditional partners, the United States and the United Kingdom.

eurofighter typhoon Saudi Arabia
Saudi Air Forces implement 72 Eurofighters Typhoon.

Let us recall, in fact, that the Saudi air forces have never used a French combat aircraft, and have remained loyal to the United States since the purchase of the first F-86 Saber in the 50s, until the order of the very advanced F-15SA in the 2000s.

Likewise, since the purchase of British BAe Lightnings in the 60s, Ryad has been a loyal customer of the British fighter aircraft industry, having even been the only export customer of the Tornado ADV and IDS, and the one of only two Lightning, and systematically the largest export customer for its devices.

Despite these privileged relations with Washington and London, Riyadh has not managed, in recent years, to modernize its air forces, and in particular, to replace the 81 Tornado IDS and the 61 F-15C still in service, and marking the weight years.

No F-22 or F-35A for the Saudi Air Force

The Saudi air forces wanted, in fact, to acquire the F-22 as soon as the American 5th Generation air superiority fighter entered service. However, as in the case of Japan, Washington refused to export its most advanced fighter, in order to protect the advanced technologies it carries.

Lacking an F-22, Riyadh then turned to the F-35A which could be exported to close allies of the United States. Here again, and as is the case with other countries such as the UAE or Thailand, export authorization for the single-engine fighter presented as the successor to the F-16 was refused, on the pretext that the fighter could not be sold only to NATO allies and the American inner circle, such as Japan, Australia or South Korea.

F-35A Lightning 2
Washington refused to sell the F-35A like the F-22 to Riyadh.

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    • The accession of Saudi Arabia, with Iran, to the BRICS in January 2024 must have somewhat cooled its relations with the USA and probably justifies their refusal to sell F22s and other F35s to a country whose rapprochement with China is recorded. Hoping, if the Dassault contract is signed, that the USA will not make us pay for it because the future PANG will not be ITAR free!


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