The French Ministry of Armed Forces will order 42 Dassault Rafale fighters in 2023 to close the capacity gap created by the sale of 24 second-hand aircraft to Greece and Croatia.
In 2020, then-defense minister Florence Parly announced the objective to raise the number of Rafale fighters, the backbone of the French Air Force, from 102 to 129 jets by 2025. But the recent commercial success of the fighter jet disturbed this roadmap.
In January 2021, Greece signed an order for 18 Rafale F3R fighters for the Hellenic Air Force, in the context of increased territorial tensions with Turkey.
For the delivery to take place as early as possible, 12 of the fighters were deducted from the inventory of the French Air Force. A month later, an order for 12 Rafales was placed to replace the second-hand aircraft.
In May 2021, it was Croatia’s turn to buy 12 used French F3R Rafale fighter jets to modernize the country’s air force. However, this time, no new order was placed by France.
The setback was confirmed by the French Chief of the Defense Staff, General Thierry Burkhard, in a hearing with the French Parliament in October 2021.
“In 2025, the target was 129 Rafale, but once the  Rafales have been removed and those that will be purchased added, we will end up with 117,” Burkhard told the Defense and Armed Forces Commission.
And Dassault’s assembly lines should be busy for the foreseeable future as, in December 2021, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) signed a deal for 80 new Rafales, the largest order in the history of the aircraft. Additionally, Indonesia signed a tentative order for six Rafales in February 2022, though that contract is on hold due to funding issues.
Though the goal for 2025 will be missed, the Ministry of the Armed Forces does aim to replace the 12 Croatian Rafales. The 2023 budget presented to the French government on September 26, 2022, confirmed that 42 additional Rafales would be ordered, and delivered between 2027 and 2030.
“The consequences of the slight drop in the Rafale fleet over the next two years will concern less operational contracts than pilot training capacities: this year, 164 hours per fighter pilot compared to approximately 147 hours for the next two years,” Deputy Chief of Staff Frederic Parisot warned in a parliamentary hearing on July 20, 2022. “However, the situation remains acceptable, provided that the aircraft of the [future orders] are delivered on time.”
These 42 new aircraft will likely be delivered in the F4 standard, currently under development. The F4 Standard will focus on improving the connectivity of the Rafale with other systems through new satellite and intra-patrol links, communication servers, and software radio. Flight tests of the Rafale F4 started in April 2021 at the Dassault Aviation Flight Test Center in Istres, southeastern France.