As the country with the largest territory in North Africa, the Algerian Army did not choose the French Rafale fighter, but the Su-30MKA
The French Rafale medium fighter, has a rough early history. It entered service 15 years after its maiden flight in 1986, due to development complications and difficult export markets. Rafale also participated in many bids, but most failed, such as in Korea and Singapore where Rafale lost to the US F-15 fighter; in Morocco and UAE Rafale lost to F-16; in Kuwait Rafale lost to F/A-18E; in Brazil Rafale lost to Gripen E of Sweden; and in Saudi Arabia and Oman, Rafale lost to the Anglo-German Eurofighter.
Another notable, but little-known, failed attempt by Rafale was in the 2000s for a purchase agreement with Algeria. The Algerian Air Force was decommissioning MiG-23 fighters at the time, and it was considering alternatives. Algerian law stipulates that all new aircraft must be tested in the country itself, and the Rafales had been shipped to the country for evaluation by the Algerian Air Force. But the Algerian Air Force, like all Rafale customers at the time, rejected the French fighter for a number of reasons.
Algeria rejected the French fighter in favor of a much heavier and more advanced aircraft, just as South Korea and Singapore did. Algeria’s choice was the Russian Su-30; considered more capable in many ways than its rival, the F-15. One of the main reasons for choosing the Su-30 was its much larger range. The Rafale has a relatively long range for a medium fighter, but it is still far behind heavy aircraft like the Su-30 or F-15. This is a big disadvantage, considering the vast territory of Algeria.
Algeria is the largest country in North Africa, the area of territory that the Algerian air force has to patrol is equivalent to the area of France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Greece combined. In addition to the range, the Su-30 also has a higher weapon load. Its situational awareness was also significantly higher than that of Rafale. The Su-30MKA’s N011M BARS radar was twice the size of Rafale’s RBE2 radar (at that time Rafale was not equipped with AESA radar).
Rafale’s M88 engine was the weakest of any fighter in production in the world at the time; This also limited the Rafale’s speed and altitude. Meanwhile, the Su-30 had very powerful engines, allowing to respond to threats faster. Another thing that gave the Su-30 an advantage was that Algeria had a history of using Soviet and Russian fighters; The selection of the Su-30 will help Algeria take advantage of its existing aviation infrastructure.
Currently Algeria’s main threat comes from the West and its allies; especially after the French offensive against neighboring Libya. So buying weapons from a reliable non-Western partner is beneficial in many ways. And yet, France has a history of repeatedly providing detailed information about its fighters and aviation weapons to its Western allies, especially to the United States and Britain during the 1991 Gulf War and to Britain during the Falklands War.
Rafale’s only strong point is that it is a multirole fighter with a much cheaper operating cost than the Su-30. However, this was offset by the price of the Su-30 being much lower than the Rafale. The Algerian Su-30MKA was based on the Indian Su-30MKI, a Russian fighter with the best features available on the export market at the time.
With the Su-30MKA, Algeria has become the country with the most capable air force in Africa; at the same time ensuring that a similar Western attack on Libya would not be possible on Algeria.