UAE signs deal for 80 French Rafale fighter jets
The United Arab Emirates has signed a deal for 80 French-made Rafale fighter jets, the biggest international order ever made for the warplanes, officials said on Friday during a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The UAE, one of the French defence industry's biggest customers, also agreed to buy 12 Caracal military transport helicopters, the French presidency said in a statement.
"This is an outcome of the strategic partnership between the two countries, consolidating their capacity to act together for their autonomy and security," the statement said.
The Rafale order is the biggest made internationally for the aircraft since it entered into service in 2004.
The agreement was signed by Dassault Aviation director-general Eric Trapier as Macron held talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed on the first day of a visit to the Gulf.
By snapping up the Rafales, built by Dassault Aviation, the UAE is following the lead of Gulf rival Qatar, which has bought 36 of the planes, and Egypt which ordered 24 in 2015 and 30 earlier this year.
The F4 model planes, which are still undergoing a two-billion-euro development programme scheduled to be completed in 2024, will be delivered from 2027.
The order to replace the UAE's 60 Mirage 2000-9 jets bought in 1998 comes 10 years after failed negotiations held by former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Rafale has since made a breakthrough on the international market despite competition from American and other European manufacturers. It now has six foreign clients including Qatar, India, Egypt, Greece and Croatia.
The Emirates was already the fifth biggest customer for the French defence industry with 4.7 billion euros from 2011-2020, according to a parliamentary report.
France has faced criticism after some of these weapons were used in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed rebels in a war that has created one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.