Uzbekistan, historically an ally of Moscow, Beijing, and Ankara, and a former member of the USSR, is considering the acquisition of 24 Rafale multirole fighters. This information, initially revealed by Intelligence Online and later confirmed by La Tribune, suggests a significant shift in Uzbekistan’s geopolitical relations.
The visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Uzbekistan, the first since François Mitterrand’s visit in 1994, was originally intended to discuss topics such as energy, particularly uranium – with Uzbekistan being France’s second supplier for its nuclear fleet. Uzbekistan, like Kazakhstan, is known for its rich subsoil resources. Hence, Tashkent’s expression of interest in acquiring the Rafale took on significant dimensions during these talks.
The Uzbek Air Force, currently equipped with 38 MiG-29s, 25 Su-27s, and about 20 Su-25s, has not received any new combat aircraft since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The planned integration of 24 Rafales (20 single-seaters and 4 two-seaters in the F4 version) could mark a significant modernization of its air forces.
The potential contract with Dassault Aviation for these aircraft is seen as “very serious.” Concurrently, Uzbekistan is also considering the option of the South Korean FA-50 “Golden Eagle.”
The FA-50, developed jointly by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Lockheed Martin, is a light aircraft, primarily designed for advanced training and light attack missions. It is equipped with a medium-range electronically scanned radar, capable of conducting ground attack and air defense missions. Its payload is limited compared to more advanced combat aircraft, but it remains effective in close air support and patrol roles. The FA-50 is often considered for its relatively low acquisition and operational costs, making it attractive for countries with more modest defense budgets.
In contrast, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale is a multirole combat aircraft, designed for a wide range of missions, including air superiority, ground attack, reconnaissance, and nuclear deterrence. It features an advanced radar system capable of simultaneously detecting and engaging multiple targets in air-to-air or air-to-ground combat. The Rafale is also equipped with a comprehensive suite of electronic countermeasures, providing high survivability in modern combat environments. Its ability to carry a wide range of armaments, including long-range air-to-air missiles and guided bombs, makes it extremely versatile.
This pivot towards Western military equipment by Uzbekistan, traditionally influenced by Russia, represents a pivotal moment. It reflects a broader change in the region, as evidenced by Kazakhstan’s potential interest in the Rafale, although such an order remains unlikely, despite discussions during Macron’s visit to Astana.
This strategic reversal by Uzbekistan raises questions about geopolitical stability and alliances in Central Asia. The interest in the Rafale, a symbol of Western military technology, suggests a potential realignment of Uzbekistan, indicative of deeper changes in international dynamics and military alliances.