The drive to cut French defence costs will have an impact on export prospects if systems development is delayed as a result. Paris plans to turn French forces fully professional and slash procurement costs by some 18 per cent by 2002. Procurement timetables have been extended which may make potential Middle East customers wary of buying equipment if it has still to be tried and tested by the French armed forces.

Rafale at risk

One potential export casualty could be the Rafale fighter-bomber aircraft which the French air force will not now receive before until 2004-2005, a five-year delay.

Dassault Aviation has promoted the Rafale to fill the UAE’s strike aircraft requirement, which is due to be ordered by late 1996-early 1997, to enter service around 2000. It would have been attractive for Dassault to fulfil both orders at the same time.

Other delays to the full-scale production of such systems as the Apache stand-off weapon, the Mica air-to-air missile, and their derivatives, may also make it more difficult to offer these weapons for export at attractive prices and in sufficient quantities.

On the land systems side, the French army’s order for tanks has been slashed from around 850 Leclerc MBTs to about 420. The defence review also suggests an extended production schedule which will affect unit costs. GIAT, the Leclerc manufacturer, is already in financial difficulty and had hopes of winning tank orders from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, for up to 100 and 200 units respectively. These must now be in doubt.

GIAT’s main hope for the future was the light armoured vehicle (LAV) market.

But its contender – the VBM modular light armoured vehicle – has been cancelled in its current form. This will force GIAT into redesign work and delay development. By that time, many potential customers may have gone elsewhere for their LAV requirement.

FT