Today Charles Edelstenne, the CEO of Dassault Aviation, presenting the company's annual results, threw a glimmer of light on one of the reasons his company is now negotiating a contract to supply India with 126 Rafale fighter aircraft. “India corresponds to the definition we have of our market: that is to say countries that either cannot or do not want to buy American or countries that buy American but want to have a second source.” And he explained that none of the countries, except two, that the Rafale has lost competitions in, met that definition.
The exceptions were Morocco and Switzerland. He regretted that in the Moroccan competition the French government had “messed up” and that President Nicolas Sarkozy had inadvertently chosen the moment just days before the Swiss were to choose a fighter aircraft to criticize the Alpine nation for lack of fiscal transparency.
He remarked that the company had had high hopes of selling the Rafale to South Korea because it was at the period of the so-called “Sunshine Policy” when it appeared that the two Koreas were drawing closer together. “Although we didn't win that one, we did force Boeing to lower its price by $400 million,” he quipped.
Returning to India, Edelstenne also remarked that the British Audit Office itself had written that the Eurofighter was more expensive than the Rafale and he added that if France had stayed in the Eurofighter program it would be costing the French taxpayer 60% more than the Rafale did for the same number of aircraft.
But apart from that, Dassault, as is its wont, remained stonily silent on the state of current negotiations with India or with the United Arab Emirates or any other military client. “You have to be kidding if you think we're going to publicize the definition, the price, the offset discussions!” he reprimanded a journalist who had the effrontery to ask. However, his director of international sales, Eric Trappier, told French economic daily Les Echos earlier this week that “the Indians want to move quickly and envisage concluding this negotiation in about six months.”
Edelstenne was however a little more loquacious about the Neuron. He said the aircraft was now fully assembled and was undergoing ground tests which had already included fuel and rolling tests. He said the program was “on time, within costs and meeting performance requirements,” and put this down to the choice of partners from five European nations based on their excellence in the technology required for this program. He had said at the time that he was not interested in Neuron being a training ground for companies to acquire know-how that they didn't yet have: it was a project in which he only wanted partners to supply the know-how and excellence that they already had. “And I'm not disappointed by the excellence which we chose,” he said today. “First flight should be towards July but the press will not be invited,” he said slyly. “We have never invited the press to any first flights but you will see it one day,” he promised.