At this year’s Bastille Day military parade held on July 14, 2023, French President Emmanuel Macron was joined by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was not just French forces that performed that day. On the parade ground, the French president witnessed the Indian Armed Forces Contingent making up their way to Champs Elysees. The Indian Air Force (IAF) performed a flypast in French-made Dassault Rafale fighter jets.
To anyone watching and closely following the global arms trade, this will not come as a surprise. A day before, New Delhi gave the clearance for an order of six Scorpene Submarines and twenty-six Rafale Jets for the Indian Navy.
However, after two weeks, the Arab nation of Qatar is considering adding another 24 Rafales to their stockpile, as reported by Frances La Tribune, the French newspaper.
According to a report from the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) in March 2023, between 2018 and 2022, French global arms trade increased to 11 per cent compared with 7.1 per cent over the previous four-year period, In the same period, the Russian share of the international arms trade declined from 22 to 16 per cent
Reasons for the Decline in Russian Arms Sales
The reasons for the decline in Russian Arms sales are varied. Although many of them are linked to the war with Ukraine, countries naturally aim to diversify their suppliers. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has revealed that the country has supplied most of its arms to the frontline and holding on to certain weapons and armed systems, and is focusing more on replacing weapons destroyed in the battle.
The multiple rounds of International sanctions on Russia may have also affected its ability to secure materials and equipment it needs for arms production, which is undermining its weapon export capabilities. The reports from the theatre of the battle of Ukraine have damaged the reputation of Russian armaments.
According to Cullen Hendricks, an international affairs professor at the University of Denver, the war has been a humbling showcase for Russian military technology. In a May contribution to the Foreign Policy magazine, he showed images of headless tanks and reports of high failure rates of missiles.
Some clients have also been disappointed with Russian products in recent years. As the world’s largest arms importer, India has a strong relationship with arms transfers from the Russian Federation. India is not happy with what it has received in technical terms from Russia. So, they turned to France.
Political considerations have to be taken into account. Since the beginning of this war in Ukraine, India has been reluctant to increase and sustain military relations with Moscow on a high level.
The United States of America exerts a lot of power on countries that procure arms from Russia, even before the war commenced in Ukraine. An example to be noted is the case of Indonesia, who had abandoned a Russian Aircraft purchase in 2021 and instead opted for US and French weaponry.
However, the Russian Federation still holds the lion’s share of arms transfers and deals in Africa, Iran and China
Significance of French Arms: Rafale
The French Rafale jets from Dassault Aviation have played a vital role in France’s success, says Oliver Gras, the general secretary of Euro Defense Force, a Paris-based association of civil and military operations. In service as early as 2002, it took until 2015 before the first Rafale was exported.
The twin-engine jets are now owned and operated by Greece, Qatar, India and Egypt and are soon expected to land in Croatia, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE had ordered 80 Rafale F-4 Rafales in 2021. The deliveries of the Rafale and orders have crossed the figure and reached nearly 500, and this is around half those of its American competitor, Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning.
Other orders are also in the pipeline. Colombia is closing on a deal with 16 planes, and the Balkan nation Serbia, which is a historical client of Russian Arms Sales, is planning to buy 12 planes. Beyond the political reasons for the Rafale’s rising popularity, Gras said the aircraft has also proved to be a high-quality and versatile fighter jet that corresponds to the needs of pilots, which is quite rare among its competitors.
And despite the Rafale being the major contributor to France’s success in the global arms race, Gras also cited other successful military exports, notably the three defence and intervention frigates the French company Naval Group signed with Greece in 2022.
The slow and steady rise of the Rafale
With the exception of Greece and Croatia, France has failed to make substantial gains in the European Arms market despite the continents’ arms imports rising since the start of the war in Ukraine. Among the European States, there are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). There is a preference for the Lockheed Martin F-35 because of its capability to drop nuclear bombs and payloads.
The Stock price of Dassault Aviation has almost doubled since February 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine. When asked about whether the French Defence Industry is directly benefitting from the war in Ukraine, Gras said the matter was delicate, noting that the increase in French Arms Deals is the result of the long-standing policy that predates the Russian Invasion.
The French Republic overtook China as the world’s largest third arms exporter in 2021. The SIPRI report of 2022 has documented France increasing its sales by 59 per cent over the previous ten years, which is more than any other country.
Wherever France will surpass Russia as the world’s second-largest arms exporter remains uncertain, Other suppliers, such as South Korea, are expecting significant growth. It is assumed that in 2024, 2025 or 2026, France will become useful or surpasses Russian arms exporters.