The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has published an interesting article by Tim Lawrenson and Douglas Barrie titled “Dassault’s whirlwind of Rafale orders may be too much of a good thing,” which discusses how the French company Dassault Aviation is being overwhelmed by an excess of orders for the Rafale fighter jet, which has become a hit in the global aerospace defence market. It remains unclear if the corporation can fulfil the required aircraft manufacturing numbers.
Dassault’s Rafale orders have reached new highs. While an excessive number of orders is wonderful, it is nonetheless a concern.
Dassault frequently emphasises its capacity to deliver Rafale combat jets to potential customers within three years of signing a deal. However, the recent increase in Rafale sales may make this 36-month commitment less possible, perhaps jeopardising some future deals.
According to IISS estimations, Dassault’s Rafale production backlog has increased to 228 aircraft. This figure represents Indonesia’s confirmation in January 2024 that it will take the final 18 Rafales out of the 42 pre-ordered two years earlier and France’s order for 42 in December 2023.
A huge order backlog may make it difficult to conclude negotiations soon, with particular strain on Rafale industrial production projected between 2026 and 2033. Dassault must deliver a total of 174 aircraft to France (the most recent order for 42 aircraft), Indonesia (42 jets), the United Arab Emirates (80 aircraft), and Egypt.
Dassault also supplies France with 27 long-delayed aircraft from a 2009 order and 12 jets to replenish those sold by Paris from Greek inventory. Furthermore, Athens is yet to get the final four out of six new Rafales slated in 2021, with six more ordered in 2022.
Last year, the French aerospace manufacturer aimed to create 15 Rafales but only manufactured 13. The company has not yet published output predictions for 2024, but increased production volume is projected this year and next because of growing demand. However, it is unlikely that the annual number of supplied aircraft will increase significantly until the mid-2020s.
If Dassault produces an average of 20 Rafales annually in 2024 and 2025, it must provide 188 aircraft between 2026 and 2033. This means that deliveries must total nearly 24 aircraft per year. Achieving such a rate by 2026 is entirely feasible, given that Dassault raised manufacturing to more than 20 aircraft per year while Egypt, India, and Qatar were awaiting deliveries. However, India announced plans to order 27 jets for its naval fleet in 2024, and New Delhi would most certainly need them before 2033. With this scenario, Dassault’s necessary production pace might be closer to 27 aircraft per year. The Indian Air Force has also long stated its desire to acquire an additional 36 jets, potentially raising the required delivery level to over 31 Rafales each year.
Dassault claims it can expand manufacturing to at least three aircraft per month, considerably reducing bottlenecks. The company’s ability to shift personnel from Falcon business jet production, which witnessed a drop in orders last year, also benefits it. However, there are numerous impediments to boosting aircraft production. While Dassault relies heavily on an internal supply network for the Rafale, which helps to protect it from global supply chain challenges, the firm and its suppliers are not immune to troubles. A paucity of engineering talent may impede a rapid expansion in Rafale manufacturing. In reality, Dassault’s industrial machine for making Rafales needs to more than triple its yearly production capacity. Such decisions inevitably imply growing the staff, manufacturing facilities, and tooling, necessitating major expenditure. Some suppliers may be concerned that production rates of 30 or more aircraft per year will be unsustainable, leaving them with costly surplus capacity if demand decreases.
What does this mean for new customers who may place substantial orders in the coming years and Dassault’s three-year delivery commitment? Perhaps Dassault can yet change its plans to achieve the 36-month timetable for the first delivery. However, this could imply that the buyer receives merely a symbolic amount – one or two aircraft annually – over an extended period. Most new customers entering into major contracts expect to receive at least six aircraft per year to train flight and ground crews and form entire squadrons, and meeting these targets may prove to be an insurmountable challenge.