Dassault Aviation delivered the first out of 36 fighters to Qatar during a ceremony organized in Mérignac, France, on February 6, 2019. This first delivery comes “on schedule”, according to Dassault.

Qatar ordered a first batch of 24 Rafale fighter jets, including 6 Rafale B two-seaters, for €6.3 billion in May 2015. In December 2017, an option was exercised for another 12 aircraft priced at €1.1 billion. These contracts also include weaponry. Pilots and technicians of the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) are currently being trained in France both by the French Air Force and members of the French defense industry.

The Rafale is the fourth type of fighter jet that Qatar has acquired from Dassault. “After the Mirage F1, the Alpha Jet and the Mirage 2000, the Rafale will carry out the tradition and will contribute to secure the sovereignty of the state of Qatar,” said the manufacturer.

In the last couple of years, Qatar has been an Eldorado for fighter jet manufacturers. In addition to the Rafales, Qatar has also ordered 24 Eurofighter Typhoons for $6.7 billion and 36 Boeing F-15QA for $12 billion in 2017.

On September 17, UK Defense Secretary announced Qatar’s intent to proceed with the purchase of Typhoon aircraft and the further strengthening of the United Kingdom’s defense relationship with the State of Qatar. The price per unit of the Typhoon is estimated at $94-121 million.

Since 2017, the Qatari state has been facing increased criticism from other countries of the Persian Gulf due to its alleged support of rebel movements in the Middle East. It culminated when Qatar was banned from the airspace of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

How the country of 2.8 inhabitants will be able to fly and maintain such a vast and varied fighter fleet remains to be seen. It might have to follow the example of the Royal Saudi Air Force which hired Pakistani pilots in the 1960s, or more recently the United Arab Emirates that relied on Colombian mercenaries to man its Blackhawks, much to Bogota’s dismay.

Meanwhile, Dassault delivered 23 of the 24 Rafales ordered by Egypt in 2015. The first of the 36 fighter jets ordered by India in 2016 should be delivered by September 2019.

This massive improvement of the backbone of the French Air Force is one of the needed evolutions to extend its operational life until 2050, date after which the Rafale should be retired from service. Eventually, it should be replaced by the FCAS, of which Dassault is the main contractor, with Airbus as a partner.