PARIS – 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 evaluations.
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.
(Editing by Louise Ireland and Mark Potter)