By Brenda Goh, Praveen Menon and John Irish
PARIS, June 19 Qatar is likely to launch an
international tender to renew its fleet of ageing fighter jets
soon and is interested in France's Rafale, a French official
said, while sources said it was also looking at the BAE
Systems-backed Eurofighter Typhoon.
Qatar said in 2011 it wanted to replace its fleet of 12
Mirage fighter jets, possibly buying 24 to 36 units.
Qatari officials were in Britain evaluating the Eurofighter
Typhoon with the Royal Air force last month, said sources
familiar with the matter who did not wish to identified as the
discussions are private.
"They have had a look at it," said one source. The
Eurofighter is also made by European aerospace company EADS
and Italian weapons maker Finmeccanica.
A Eurofighter team will be going to Doha in the next few
weeks for flight trials, said a third source, adding the Qataris
were in the process of making comparisons and flight
Separately on Wednesday, a French official talked up
prospects for the Rafale fighter ahead of President Francois
Hollande's visit to the Gulf Arab state that starts on Saturday.
"It interests the Qatari air force ... we hope that it could
evolve in the coming months," he said. Eric Trappier, chief
executive of Dassault which makes Rafale and Mirage
jets, would be part of the delegation, he said.
The two fighter jets are also competing for the contract
against various Boeing-made planes after the Qatari air
force tested the jets last summer.
Qatar's interest in both the Eurofighter and Rafale signal
the start of another fierce competition between the jets for
lucrative export contracts. India picked the Rafale over the
Eurofighter in January 2012 but has not yet finalised the $15
billion deal, which would be the jet's first overseas sale.
Both parties are also in talks with the United Arab Emirates
about potential sales, although Abu Dhabi has yet to agree on
the price and technical suitability for its air force.
Paris has close commercial and political ties with Qatar
and, beyond discussing the geopolitical situation, hopes to use
Hollande's visit to push France's commercial interests in the
country and encourage investment into France, where gas-rich
Qatar already has assets of about $10 billion.
Other top French companies also sending executives to Doha
include oil major Total, aircraft manufacturer Airbus
and construction firm Vinci which earlier this month
won a major contract on the Doha metro project.