PARIS: France announced measures to boost its annual €6 billion (US$8.8 billion) arms sales Thursday, spurred by the prospect of the first foreign sale of its Rafale jet fighter.
Defense Minister Herve Morin, flanked by Dassault SA and Thales SA defense chiefs, said in a Paris news conference he plans to bolster France’s defense industry by reducing approval times in vetting arms deals and cutting red tape. France lags behind the United States, Britain and Russia in arm sales, according to the Defense Ministry.
Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi opened exclusive negotiations with France over the sale of 14 Rafale jets, 35 helicopters and other military equipment during an ongoing visit to Paris.
President Nicolas Sarkozy has faced criticism for the warm welcome provided to the Libyan leader, enjoying French hospitality since Monday. Sarkozy says the visit is a reward for Gadhafi because he renounced state sponsorship of terrorism and his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Gadhafi’s trip has clinched contracts worth billions of dollars for French business.
Dassault chief executive Charles Edelstenne said France has six months to agree on terms. Negotiations with Libya will be handled by Sarkozy’s office. The deal would be the first foreign sale of a Rafale, currently operational with the French navy and the French Air Force. Produced as both a single and two-seater jet, the Rafale is designed to perform missions previously requiring dedicated types of aircraft including air defense, ground attack and aerial reconnaissance.
Edelstenne rejected criticism of the arms sale to Libya. “If we start to enter into this kind of debate there won’t be any international trade because should we also sell other goods, should we also sell food to a country under a dictator?” he said.
“The arms we sell are arms whose principal vocation, and that’s why they are sophisticated, is to avoid killing, to kill the minimum of people and to destroy material and not people,” he said.
France is bidding against competitors including Lockheed Martin Corp. and Russian Aircraft Corp. to sell the Rafale to countries such as India, which is seeking bids to supply 126 multi-role combat jets in a deal potentially worth about US$10 billion.
French pride took a blow in October, when Sarkozy returned from an official visit to Morocco empty-handed after the North African nation snubbed the French combat fighter. French media said Morocco decided to buy an F-16 from Lockheed Martin instead of a Rafale after the government bungled negotiations lacking a single dedicated coordinator handling talks with Rabat.
“I don’t want to go back over what was seen by us as a failure,” Morin said Thursday. Morin said the new measures announced Thursday are geared to helping French firms be competitive. He denied they would lead to the sale of arms to undesirable regimes, saying there are sufficient controls even under the new streamlined procedures.
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The Frenchies are obviously mighty cheesed with India right now. Under obvious US pressure, the almost concluded deal for 197 light utility helicopters, which was to go to the Eurocopter Fennec, was scrapped, with a new tender to be floated in a matter of weeks. Between 17-20 here in Delhi, there’s the tenth meeting of the Indo-French High Committee on Defence Cooperation, at which French Defence Ministry representative Thierry Borja de Mozota is certain to cry blue murder in a baritone.
Also up for discussion is a bail-out package for GTRE’s Kaveri jet engine, the Maitri-Trishul programme in collaboration with MBDA, the upgrade and repair package for the IAF’s Mirage-2000Hs, VL-MICA air combat missiles, and Thales Master-A 3D multifunction radars for license production here. Also on the table is an offer for Mistral-class amphibious assault vessels. I still can’t get former Ambassador Dominique Girard’s smarmy self-satisfied smile at the signing of the Scorpene deal in the cupola room of South Block. It’s still unknown who got all the fat kickbacks. I hope someone’s gonna investigate. Someone’s gotten seriously rich on the six boats, and one name seems to do the rounds more than most.