ABU DHABI (AFP) — The United Arab Emirates said on Thursday it was mulling replacing its fleet of French Mirage 2000 combat planes with the multi-role Rafale, which has yet to find an export market.
"The UAE is seriously considering replacing its fleet of Mirage 2000 combat planes with the French new generation Rafale fighter starting in 2013," an official was quoted by the state WAM news agency as saying.
"Discussions on this issue are under way between the UAE government and France," he said.
The official did not give more details but the oil-rich Gulf country's purchase of the Rafale would be a major boost for Dassault Aviation's fourth-generation combat jet.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy immediately welcomed the announcement as "good news for France.
"The United Arab Emirates has been using French weaponry for a long time," he said in a statement. "They are looking at the Rafale to replace their fleet of 63 Mirage 2000 planes."
He said there was "no fixed dates, nor have commercial negotiations begun" but added that "discussions will be held in the coming weeks."
"In case a contract is signed, the first planes can be delivered from 2012 onwards."
Dassault are also makers of the Mirage 2000-9 combat planes, which the UAE bought in 1998.
Abu Dhabi purchased 30 Mirage 2000-9 in a 3.2-billion-dollar deal which included the modernisation of 33 other Mirages.
France is a leading military supplier to the UAE, which bought more than 400 Leclerc tanks from French firm GIAT in 1994.
During a visit by Sarkozy to Abu Dhabi in January, the two countries signed a deal under which Paris will set up its first permanent military base in the UAE.
The base will be set up in Abu Dhabi, the wealthiest and largest of the UAE's seven emirates.
It is due to become operational in 2009 and will eventually host 400-500 French army, navy and air force personnel, French officials have said.
"It will be the first such French base in the Gulf and it will face the Strait of Hormuz," the strategic waterway through which much of the world's oil supplies pass, a French presidential source said in January.
Abu Dhabi and Paris are linked by a 1995 defence pact under which their armed forces conduct regular joint manoeuvres in the UAE.
Dassault has yet to find a foreign buyer for the Rafale, which can carry out interception and reconnaissance missions as well as nuclear strikes. The French aerospace group is in talks with Libya over a possible sale.
Talks had taken place with Saudi Arabia on a possible deal, but the Gulf oil powerhouse eventually opted for Britain's Eurofighter jets.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »