PARIS — Qatar has exercised an option to acquire more Rafale fighter jets and signed a letter of intent to order VBCI infantry fighting vehicles, the Ministry of the Armed Forces announced on Thursday.
“Army Minister Florence Parly welcomes Qatar’s willingness to acquire new Rafales,” the ministry said in a statement. “It also welcomes the signing of a letter of intent for the acquisition of VBCI armored vehicles, selected in the Qatari competition.”
This order stems from the exercise by Qatar of an option on 12 Rafale fighters, bringing its acquisition to 36, on the basis of a contract signed in May 2015, Dassault Aviation said in a press release.
The new Rafale order was worth 1.1 billion euros (1.3 billion US dollars), the daily Le Monde reported. Qatar has also signed an option for 36 other twin-engine fighters.
Rafale fighters will be equipped with Lockheed Martin Sniper laser targeting pods. Additionally, they will be stripped of the ability to deliver nuclear weapons and will also lose the standard NATO communications capabilities that were equipped for the French Air Force and Navy.
The letter of intent for the VBCI covers 490 units of Nexter, which is worth at least 1.5 billion euros and could reach 3.2 billion euros depending on the choice of weapons, according to the report. A contract could be signed in 2018, securing the first export deal for the 30-ton eight-wheel-drive vehicle.
“We welcome the letter of intent,” a Nexter spokeswoman said.
Qatar’s addition to its Rafale fleet follows a deal with the UK to order 24 Eurofighter Typhoons and six Hawks, as well as a $12 billion order for Boeing F-15QA fighters .
BAE Systems has completed negotiations on the Typhoons and Hawks and it remains only to choose a date for the signing of the contracts, Chris Boardman, general manager of military air and information activities at BAE Systems, told the British Parliament Select Committee on Defense on 28 November.
The 2015 contract for 24 Rafale fighters was worth 6.3 billion euros and included MBDA Meteor long-range and Scalp cruise missiles.
The arms order highlights political rather than military significance, said Jean-Pierre Maulny, deputy director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations think tank. “Qatar shows how much it appreciates the support of France, the UK and the US against Saudi Arabia,” he said.
These arms deals are part of the need to keep allies close as Qatar seeks international support in its strained relationship with Saudi Arabia, he added.
“Buying defense equipment is political,” said Sash Tusa, an analyst at equity research firm Agency Partners. “They are spending money on Western equipment to make and keep friends against Saudi Arabia.”
Payment for the equipment was not a problem, as Qatar had sufficient financial resources.
The Qatari accords were signed as French President Emmanuel Macron and Parly visited the Gulf state.
“Exports are vital for our defense industry and the equipment of our armed forces,” said the French Ministry of the Armed Forces. “They contribute to the strategic autonomy and influence of our country. Florence Parly is fully committed to helping the President of the Republic ensure the success of French arms exports.
Parly received a visit from his Qatari counterpart at the end of November to discuss in detail these agreements, which are the subject of intense negotiations with Dassault and Nexter, the ministry said. The minister mentioned other weapons and worked on a letter of intent on the status of French forces in Qatar and Qatari forces in France.
All these topics were discussed again at the request of the minister during a telephone call on December 6 to reach an agreement in time for the presidential visit, the ministry said.
“This new order follows the contract signed on May 4, 2015 between the State of Qatar and Dassault Aviation for the acquisition of 24 Rafales, thus bringing to 36 the number of Rafales aircraft operated by the Qatar Emiri Air Force”, specifies the company. in a report.
The latest order showed that Qatar “reaffirms its confidence in the qualities of the Rafale and expresses its satisfaction with the execution of the main contract”, the company said.
The French ministry assumed 4 billion euros in Rafale exports when drawing up this multi-year defense budget, former procurement chief Laurent Collet-Billon had said. Major national programs would have been delayed in the absence of foreign agreements.
It took about a year for Qatar to raise an international bank loan to pay a 15% down payment on its 2015 order for the first 24 Rafale fighter jets and missiles.
There has been no news on negotiations for a planned order for 22 Airbus Helicopters NH90 military transport helicopters, Le Monde reported. The weapons were part of an €11.1 billion package of Qatari projects announced during Macron’s visit, with deals for the underground rail system and Airbus passenger planes. Qatar has changed a previous order for 50 Airbus A320 jetliners to A321 Neo, worth 5.5 billion euros.
In June, Saudi Arabia severed all diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar, saying steps had been taken to protect the kingdom from what it said was terrorism and extremism.