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Mon 14 Nov 2011 06:32 PM

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France unshaken over UAE's interest in Typhoon jet

French air chief says still confident on deal with Gulf state for 60 Rafale warplanes

France unshaken over UAE's interest in Typhoon jet
French fighter jet targets Libya no-fly zone

The UAE's request for technical details on the Typhoon combat jet built by European arms consortium Eurofighter has not shaken France's confidence in securing a deal to sell the Gulf state more than French 60 Rafale warplanes, the French air chief told Reuters.

"Getting information on different systems is fine," General Jean-Paul Palomeros said on Sunday on the sidelines of the Dubai Air Show. "I know that the Emirates air force is very keen with Rafale, that's for sure because they told me that they like the aircraft, they know how operational it is."

The European arms consortium Eurofighter briefed UAE officials on October 17 on its rival Typhoon combat jet, in a surprise overture likely to disappoint France as it tries to finalise a sale of Dassault's Rafale at the Dubai Air Show this week.

After the briefing, the UAE asked Eurofighter to submit a proposal on potentially supplying the Typhoon to the major oil exporter's air force, the consortium said in a statement on Monday.

In 2010, the UAE was reported to have requested technical details on Boeing's F/A-18 war plane as well.

But the US assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs said the UAE had not made an official request to buy the aircraft.

"There's not been a formal letter of request for any fighters," Andrew Shapiro told reporters in Dubai on Monday. "But we are in discussions with the UAE about the best way to meet their defence needs, including their desire for fighter aircraft in the future."

France is struggling to secure a foreign buyer for the aircraft, which is more developed than fourth generation combat aircraft but lags behind fifth generation multi-role fighters such as Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II.

The UAE has pressed for the aircraft's engines to be upgraded with extra thrust and for better radar, industry sources have said, but Palomeros said UAE officials are satisfied with the plane.

"In terms of operational requirements, our friends in the Emirates air force are very happy," Palomeros said.

He said the Rafale was the first aircraft to engage in NATO operations in Libya that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi. Eurofighter on Monday said the Typhoon marked its own milestone in Libya where it made its combat debut.

Experts following the deal said that it was possible that the two countries are trapped in a bargaining loop.

French officials have made several positive statements about the prospects of signing a deal, but UAE officials have remained tight-lipped.

But the UAE's former air force chief, Major General Khaled al-Buainnain, said he believed the current discussions were more about the cost of the aircraft rather than technical details.

"There's no required enhancements," al-Buainnain said on Saturday. "The UAE has always special requirements. I think the enhancement issue is over, the issue is now financial and contractual. This is a massive project that needs deliberate study."

General Faouzi Abou Farhat, a former senior official of Lebanon's air force, said the Rafale was more expensive than similar warplanes available for sale such at the Typhoon and F-16.

"The issue is they can't agree on a price," he said.

The UAE said in 2008 it was in negotiations with France to buy at least 60 Rafale warplanes to replace its fleet of Mirage-2000-9 warplanes, in a deal that could be worth 10bn euros, according to experts.

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