Thursday

23rd Nov 2017

Libya strikes showcase French warplane

  • Dassault spokesman: 'the Rafale is the only aircraft in the world which has an omnirole - it can do air combat, bombardment, observation' (Photo: French)

Many commentators believe the Libya air strikes are a pre-election advert for President Nicolas Sarkozy. Some believe they are also an advert for France's badly-selling Rafale jet fighter.

Several EU diplomats and even one foreign minister speaking off the record in Brussels in the run-up to the Libya campaign pointed to next year's French presidential elections as a big reason for Sarkozy's enthusiasm to take on Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

But looking in detail at French operations in Libya, military analysts have also said that France is using the war to promote its badly-selling €60-million-per-unit Rafale fighter.

Rafale jets fired the symbolic first shot against Gaddafi at 17.45 Libyan time on 19 March, destroying four tanks on the outskirts of Benghazi. The strike took place three hours before the US and UK began bombarding Gaddafi anti-aircraft bases, with the French ministry of defence swiftly posting a set of Rafale pictures on its website.

David Cenciotti, an Italian jet-fighter-pilot-turned-analyst, told EUobserver that the Rafale strikes were highly irregular because in a normal operation the anti-air-defence bombardment would have come first.

"The French intervention is, among other things, aimed at putting the Rafale under the spotlight," he said. "For sure, the French air force was confident that Benghazi was free of SAM [surface-to-air-missile] sites, but I think it was mainly a demo."

The Rafale fighter already got its 'battle proven' stamp in Afghanistan in 2007 and will have little chance to show off in air-to-air combat in Libya: the only Gaddafi plane it destroyed so far was an old Yugoslav-made Galeb hit while on the ground.

Jean-Pierre Maulny, the co-director of the Paris-based Institute for Strategic and International Relations (Iris), explained that Libya is better in promotional terms than Afghanistan, however.

"Nobody speaks about the Rafale in Afghanistan because people don't understand the Afghanistan conflict and its objectives so well. In Libya it's very clear - we are trying to stop a dictator from killing his people. Positive French public opinion, the way the French press is reporting on this war, it all creates a certain reaction abroad," he said.

"The decision to make the first strike was a political one, not a tactical one," he added. "Promoting the Rafale is not a primary objective, but it is a secondary effect."

For his part, Paul Holtum, an expert at the Swedish arms-control NGO Sipri, added: "I understand that the 'marketing possibilities' have also been discussed with regard to a Swedish decision on whether to send the Gripen for action over Libya ... However, the air campaign might be of more interest with regard to markets for advanced missiles and guided bombs rather than combat aircraft."

Rafale manufacturer, the Paris-based Dassault Aviation, has so far sold almost 300 of the planes to the French military but not a single one to another country.

Dassault is in talks to sell 60 to anti-Gaddafi coalition partner the United Arab Emirates and 36 to Brazil. Up until late February, it was in talks to sell 14 to Gaddafi himself.

Company spokesman Stephane Fort told this website that the Cenciotti theory is "propaganda not reality." He said the Rafale was used to hit Gaddafi's tanks because it was right for the job: "The Rafale is the only aircraft in the world which has an omnirole - it can do air combat, bombardment, observation. All this in one flight, with one pilot in one plane."

French diplomats and members of the French military establishment also rejected the theory.

The former chief of the French air force, General Jean Rannou, told EUobserver: "It was not in any way a communications mission. Benghazi was hemmed in by Gaddafi tanks. If we hadn't struck quickly on Saturday, they would have entered the city and it would have been too late."

He added: "Gaddafi's air defences were not so dangerous, so the risk we took was not big."

As for Sarkozy's re-election, French contacts pointed out that Libya is "a gamble" because if the war turns ugly it could harm him in the polls.

Libya in any case did nothing for his centre-right UMP party in local elections on Sunday (27 March), when the opposition Socialist party stormed to victory on 36 percent.

"This election was dominated by worries about the economic situation in France. But I think international issues, foreign policy will be a bigger factor in the presidential elections next year," the Iris think-tank's Maulny said.

Correction: This story was corrected at 5pm Brussels time on 29 March. The original text said the Galeb was a Russian-made plane, but in fact it was Yugoslav-made

Berlin risks being 'culprit' for stalling EU, warns Green MEP

Reinhard Buetikofer, who participated in the failed coalition talks, put the blame squarely on FDP being 'afraid to govern', but hopes "there will be a lot of phone calls" to German politicians on the consequences of the deadlock in Berlin.

Opinion

Eastern partners, eastern problems

The EU must hold out the olive branch of possible membership in the distant future - but the current domestic problems in the ex-Soviet states, let alone their links to Russia make more than that difficult.

Opinion

EU must put Sudan under microscope at Africa summit

The EU is throwing a lot of money at Sudan to manage migration from the Horn of Africa to Europe - but the upcoming Africa Union-EU summit is a chance to probe Sudan about its own human rights record.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level
  2. European Friends of ArmeniaLaunch of Honorary Council on the Occasion of the Eastern Partnership Summit and CEPA
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU Leaders Should Press Azerbaijan President to End the Detention of Critics
  4. CECEKey Stakeholders to Jointly Tackle the Skills Issue in the Construction Sector
  5. Idealist Quarterly"Dear Politics, Time to Meet Creativity!" Afterwork Discussion & Networking
  6. Mission of China to the EUAmbassador Zhang Ming Received by Tusk; Bright Future for EU-China Relations
  7. EU2017EEEstonia, With the ECHAlliance, Introduces the Digital Health Society Declaration
  8. ILGA EuropeFreedom of Movement For All Families? Same Sex Couple Ask EU Court for Recognition
  9. European Jewish CongressEJC to French President Macron: We Oppose All Contact With Far-Right & Far-Left
  10. EPSUWith EU Pillar of Social Rights in Place, Time Is Ticking for Commission to Deliver
  11. ILGA EuropeBan on LGBTI Events in Ankara Must Be Overturned
  12. Bio-Based IndustriesBio-Based Industries: European Growth is in Our Nature!

Latest News

  1. Berlin risks being 'culprit' for stalling EU, warns Green MEP
  2. Eastern partners, eastern problems
  3. Germany's Schulz under pressure to enter coalition talks
  4. LuxLeaks trial re-opens debate on whistleblowers' protection
  5. Wilders says Russia is 'no enemy' ahead of Moscow visit
  6. EU must put Sudan under microscope at Africa summit
  7. Mali blames West for chaos in Libya
  8. Orban stokes up his voters with anti-Soros 'consultation'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  2. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  3. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  4. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  6. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  7. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  8. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  10. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  11. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future