France clinches historic €17bn deal with UAE for warplanes, helicopters

·2 min read

The United Arab Emirates has signed a contract to purchase 80 French-made Rafale fighter jets and 12 military helicopters – the largest overseas sale of the warplane since it entered into service in 2004. Agreed during President Emmanuel Macron's visit to the region Friday, the deal further deepens economic and political ties between the two allies.

The UAE is one of the French defence industry's biggest customers, also ordering 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," it said.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly called the agreement "historic", adding that it contributed "directly to regional stability".

The planes, which are still undergoing a €2 billion development programme, will be delivered from 2027.

The agreement was signed by Rafale manufacturer Dassault Aviation as Macron held talks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on the first day of his two-day visit to the Gulf.

Shares in Dassault Aviation SA rose by more than 9 percent following the announcement.

On-off negotiations

Negotiations for the Rafale fighter jets began more than a decade ago, with Abu Dhabi publicly rebuffing France’s offer to supply 60 planes in 2011 as “uncompetitive and unworkable”.

Abu Dhabi already has French-built Mirage 2000 warplanes.

The Rafale has since made a breakthrough on the international market, despite competition from the US and other European manufacturers. It now has six foreign clients including Qatar and India, which have bought 36 each, Egypt (54), Greece (18) and Croatia (12).

Defence sources say the Rafale would replace the Mirage fleet but is unlikely to displace the American F-35 as the UAE continues to hedge its security with two major suppliers, France and the United States.

France's fifth biggest customer

The UAE was already the French defence industry's fifth biggest customer, spending €4.7 billion between 2011 and 2020, according to a parliamentary report.

Paris has a permanent military base in the Emirati capital.

France has faced increasing pressure to review its sales because of concerns its warplanes are being used against civilians in the conflict in Yemen.

"France is going ahead with these sales despite the UAE playing a leading role in the atrocity-marred military operations led by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

"The French president should denounce the human rights violations in these three countries."

Macron’s visit to the UAE is part of a two-day trip to the Gulf that includes stops in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

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