Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, has expressed a desire for France to supply the country with Rafale fighters, as Ukraine explores diversifying its defense choices.
Following meetings on August 30, 2023, with Catherine Colonna, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, and President Emmanuel Macron, Kuleba gave an interview to Le Monde in which he expressed satisfaction with France’s “military, humanitarian, diplomatic, and economic” support for Ukraine.
On August 21, 2023, General James Hecker, commander of US Air Forces in Europe, US Air Forces Africa, and NATO Allied Command, revealed that France would oversee the advanced training of Ukrainian pilots selected to operate the F-16, using the Alpha Jet dual-seater twin-jet aircraft of the French Air Force.
Minister Kuleba spoke of Ukraine’s ambitious approach towards its defense needs, indicating that the country does not intend to limit its aspirations solely to the US-made F-16 fighter jets that an international coalition had pledged to supply.
“We are working with other countries which produce latest-generation aircraft,” Kuleba said, hailing the potential supply of Rafale by France as a “strategic” long-term investment.
However, the provision of combat aircraft presents various technical challenges in France. In February 2023, the Dassault Mirage 2000C fighter jet was regarded as a potential contender. The year before, the French Air Force bid adieu to this early single-seat version of the fighter, dating back to the 1980s and used primarily for air defense.
While the Mirage 2000C may have limited effectiveness against contemporary Russian fighter aircraft, it could potentially play a role in intercepting Iran-made Shahed-136 kamikaze drones and Kalibr cruise missiles utilized by Russia to target Ukrainian cities. However, considering that only 12 fighters remained when the variant was retired, the number of available aircraft might not have justified the investment in training or the potential for modernization.
While much more modern and capable, the availability of Rafale fighters is also limited due to its recent commercial success. Dassault’s assembly lines are operating at full capacity to meet an extensive order backlog.
In 2020, the then-Defense Minister, Florence Parly, outlined an ambitious plan to increase the fleet of Rafale fighters, a cornerstone of the French Air Force, from 102 to 129 jets by 2025. However, the fulfillment of two consecutive orders for Greece and Croatia, involving the transfer of 24 second-hand French Rafale fighters, has posed a significant challenge to this expansion roadmap.
Given these constraints, Kyiv’s request may face hurdles in gaining acceptance from France in the short term. The prospect of Rafale fighters donning Ukrainian colors is not entirely far-fetched, though. In March 2021, during a visit to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President Emmanuel Macron reportedly held a conversation about the potential sale of Dassault Rafale fighter jets to Ukraine being one of his “top priorities”.