The Rafale Genesis

The Rafale Genesis
A detailed history of the Rafale fighter aircraft program

The very first origins of the Rafale program came from the disappointment of the French Air Force at not being able to acquire the Super Mirage 4000, extremely efficient but heavy and therefore expensive, and which had to be content with the Mirage 2000 (Dassault hoped to finance and build the Super Mirage 4000 for the air force, while self-financing the Mirage 2000 for export needs. The President of the French Republic at the time decided otherwise. Dassault was unable to find an export customers for Super Mirage 4000, a competitor to the American F15, and the program remained a technological demonstrator).

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When the time came to think about replacing the old Mirage 3 and 5 and the Jaguar, Dassault and the French official services had the idea of designing a completely versatile aircraft so that it could replace all the jets in line: The Mirage 4 of reconnaissance and deterrence, the air defense Mirage 2000 the tactical and air defense Mirage F1, the Jaguar, the latest Mirage 3 and 5 and even the Crusaders and Super standard of naval aviation.

It must be said that the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s saw French aero industry made great progress in order to make up for the short lead of American aircraft : FBW on Mirage 2000, rapid development of composites, mastery of design software (Catia soft), engines with mono crystalline blades, versatile radars (RDY).

These advances were added to the excellent skills already acquired by Dassault in aerodynamics, his specialization in delta wings and his mastery of complex programs, and the skills of French electronics engineers in electronic warfare systems (heritage of the aerial branch of the French nuclear deterrence).
During this new program, currently called ACX, the Air Force insisted on obtaining a twin-engine aircraft. Formula which also had the support of naval aviation in terms of safety.

The ACX was going to rely on:
  • A light, compact and very aerodynamically efficient airframe in order to obtain a light aircraft compared to its performance (Marcel Dassault explaining that an airplane is sold by kilogramme ! The experience of the very powerful but heavy Super Mirage 4000 had passed over there)
  • Two versatile and compact engines, technologically at least at the level of American achievements at the time (the M88 had a world record turbine inlet temperature for a while), capable of allowing the aircraft to fly as well at very low altitudes maintaining good performance at high altitude
  • Digital electric flight controls
  • A very unstable aerodynamic formula based on closed coupled delta wings, allowing exceptional manoeuvrability, a high load capacity and the low take-off and landing speed essential for an aircraft on board an aircraft carrier (Americans will always doubt you can make a good on board plane with a delta wing)
  • A new type of air inlets ensuring excellent reactor power up to mach 2 and more than 30 ° AoA, without a mobile device, and contributing to the overall stealth
  • An electronic scanning radar alone capable of ensuring the versatility of the desired missions
  • Passive discretion of the frame (a quantified, but confidential, RCS objective was given to Dassault when ordering the standard Rafale), thanks to its geometry (air inlets for example) and its materials
  • A very advanced active self-protection system, which alone will consume 25% of the R&D costs of the entire program
  • A modern cabin and a high level plane-pilot interface
  • An architecture designed from the outset to facilitate future developments
  • The ease of maintenance and high availability are taken into account from the design stage
Exploratory developments, already launched for some, were accelerated. The reactor in particular was very ambitious, since it had to have more thrust than the F404 while being smaller and lighter.

At the beginning of the 1980s, Europe sought to acquire a medium aircraft to replace a good part of the French, English and German (Phantom), Italian & Spanish fighters… Dassault and British Aerospace competed for the leadership of the project.

The Europeans could not agree on the characteristics of the plane (versatile and lighter for France, oriented air-air and heavier for the others, mainly the English) nor on the industrial assembly.

At the 1986 Farnborough Air Show, the ACX demonstrator, renamed Rafale A in the meantime, proved to be more efficient than its competitor, the EAP.

France, certain of the advantages of its aeronautical industry, decided in 1988 to make its own plane, against a consortium which developed the Eurofighter.

Rafale was born

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Rafale A prototype

Rafale was scheduled to enter service in 1996, and an initial quantity of 326 aircraft for the Air Force and Naval Aviation was planned.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent drop in defense budgets decided otherwise. It was postponed for several years and the quantities reduced, like all of the major weapons programs of the moment (nuclear aircraft carrier delayed, Leclerc MBT delayed and cut, etc.).

From the beginning, three aircraft standards were provided :
  1. F1 only air air, and intended for the urgent replacement of the Naval Aviation Crusaders. This standard was only applied to the first 10 naval airplanes which have since been retrofitted.
  2. F2 integrating the first air-to-ground capabilities, a mature Spectra electronic support measure system and in particular the ability to fire the SCALP cruise missile.
  3. F3 totally versatile : air to air, air to ground, anti ship, nuclear deterrence, refueling

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F1 Rafale with Magic 2 AAM.

The modularity of the aircraft and its very open architecture make it easy to upgrade from one standard to another easily.

This same modularity has made it possible to reduce to 2 hours the time necessary to replace a PESA antenna with an AESA antenna on the same radar.



The 2020’ Rafale

Rafale is a mature aircraft, which offers very high performance:
  • Better weapon + gas load than that of the Super Hornet while being 40% lighter,
  • Agility comparable to that of the F22,
  • Very high availability (almost 100% on the Rafales on board the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier),
  • First European on-board AESA radar which is based on the PESA software library (now 20 years of experience in electronic scanning). In 2020 this radar remains unique in Europe, and this for 7 years… (cheers Eurofighter)
  • Very complete SPECTRA self-protection system. It is rumored that it has active cancellation modes… ,
  • Controlled stealth. Not comparing with performance of F22 while F35 imposes constraints on agility.
  • Extreme versatility since the same aircraft can deliver nuclear weapons, fire a long-range air air missile, refuel another aircraft, do reconnaissance, fire an anti-ship missile, fire a cruise missile, fire diversified air-to-ground weapons , make air-to-ground canon support while protecting itself alone. And often several of these missions at the same time.

The future ?

From the very beginning, there is a strong road map for Rafale.

Beyond the F3 Standard, imagined from the beginning of the program in the late 1980s, a F3R standard has just been put into service. It adds to the complete F3 standard the ability to fire the Meteor missile, the reconnaissance capability thanks to the TALIOS pod, improvements to the radar and electronic warfare system and, for export, an integrated HCMS.

Note: for Indian and Qatar market, some new equipments are (or are to be) integrated : US laser pod, Israelis guided bombs, Indian AAM
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F3R Rafale with MICA IR and EM, Meteor, Hammer bombs.

The F4 standard has just been ordered for delivery in 2024. It will add capabilities to radar, optronics, electronic warfare system, A new guided and powered bomb of 1000Kg, a new medium-range air air missile, data links higher bandwidth and satellite data link to become a communication node like the F35.

Beyond F5 and F6 are already the subject of R&D, with work on the improvement of stealth (maybe with frame modifications), the generalisation of GaN for the radar antenna (with probably side antennas) and Spectra, the remote management of drones, collaboration with the future Franco-German SCAF aircraft (which will be much heavier), stealth cargo for weaponry, conformal tanks, etc.

The future of the Rafale is written until at least 2060.

The rapid and easy scalability of the Rafale is exceptional (you only have to see the slowness and limitations of Eurofighter). It is clear that the teams that defined this weapon system in the 1980s were proof of a remarkable spirit of anticipation.
 
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From the perilous deck of an aircraft carrier, Pierre-Henri ‘Até’ Chuet took the Dassault Rafale M into combat in Iraq. We spoke to him to find out more about the Rafale, a remarkable fighting machine, a masterpiece of design and a strong contender for the title of best combat aircraft ‘all-rounder’.

First Impressions of Rafale?

It’s a space shuttle!’ was my first impression. It is very agile, very responsive* when you’re light and very very manoeuvrable… you can easily bump your head, I bumped my head twice on the first flight! Flight controls are very different as you can barely move the stick, it’s just centimetres compared to the former flight control system of the Super Étendard, so it took me couple of hours to get used to that. That’s the big difference. A lot of fun on that. First impression was the thrust, speed, comfort – the fact the aircraft was really sanitised for sound so you have no clue what speed you’re flying at — you really have to look at the instruments. And extremely responsive.”

(*Até actually used the English word ‘nervous’, not responsive, throughout his descriptions of Rafale. In French, the word ‘nerveux’ is often used to describe a twitchy, responsive car that is quick to accelerate, I have replaced nervous with ‘responsive’)

Best thing

“Best thing about it. It is very very responsive, very good situational awareness if you know how to manage all the screens and everything. A lot of capabilities. the omni-role stuff is very impressive it can really switch extremely fast from air-to-ground to the air-to-air mission.”

And the worst thing?

“The worst thing would be the noise. Pretty noisy aircraft. Like most of them, the ECS (environmental control system) is pretty noisy. Not the engines really, it’s the ECS.”

How you rate the Rafale M in the following categories?

Instantaneous turn/High alpha/Sustained turn


“It’s good, it’s very good. you have two types of ‘flying the aircraft’: you have the air-to air mode where you pull +9 Gs up to 11.Then you have with bombs and full tanks, when your performance is not as good: about +5g and about 200 degree roll rate less – so it’s two different aircraft. When you’re in air-to-air all this stuff is pretty good. Instantaneous turn and sustained turn pretty good. So it’s two different aircraft – when it’s in air-to-air mode it’s very good. It depends what you make of it – I’ve never had any issues.”

Sustained turn

“Sustained turn is good.”

High alpha

“Less than a Hornet, but still good. High alpha could be better, but it’s really what you make out of it — I’ve never had any issue.”

Acceleration & Climb rate

“The acceleration is insane! Climb rate is firm – to give you an idea: if we’re at 500 knots & 500 feet… put the afterburner on — wait for the afterburner to kick in — then put the nose up at 60 degrees so you’re feeling like you’re vertical because of the angle of the seat (that’s 30 degrees) and at some point you have to throttle back in the afterburner to make sure it doesn’t go supersonic…in the climb 60 degree nose up! So that’s for the climb rate.”

As a carrier aircraft?

“And as a carrier aircraft it’s a good jet. Very versatile. Very robust. Really no issue on the carrier side. Fuel is efficient. You have enough fuel and it’s pretty fuel efficient. You’re burning less fuel in afterburner at high altitudes than Typhoon does without the afterburner.”

What was your most memorable mission?

“The best ones are air shows. Air shows are insane. Yeovilton air show was a blast. But combat mission wise, I had a mission back in 2016. I was leader to two Rafale in Northern Iraq. I was fitted with GBU-12. He was fitted with SBU-38 (Hammer) . My laser designation pod wasn’t working. My wingman’s one wasn’t working. And with ten minutes left of flying time basically on station and then hitting the refueller and transit back to the aircraft carrier that was in the Gulf. We were then instructed to go East, as US Marine Special Forces from a recon got ambushed and were getting shot at by a few snipers. So about 80 miles of transit and we had to redo everything.

And my wingman and I had already dropped some bombs on enemy guys. And we had to redo everything: negotiate a new tanker; advise the carrier we’ll be late; come up with a game-plan. Pretty rushed and then on arrive on scene. It was quite difficult to spot the first group of snipers. They had ‘IR shields’ and stuff like that so we found them with the help of the SF on the ground using small UAVs and compare my footage with this SF UAV footage. I got rid of those two guys.

They told me I had to drop on a third guy to the south. And I was completely ‘bingo’ on fuel…don’t tell anyone! The tanker was coming, so basically I decided to take my chances I couldn’t find a guy and my laser pod wasn’t very good that day. So I just went, ‘OK one or two metres‘, knowing there were virtually no civilians as it was in the desert, so I took my chance and it ended with me being at three metres to be efficient. But that was pretty memorable as sometimes you just have to take actions. And I guess it was a lucky bet…I’m not saying it’s a good thing to bet…it wasn’t that much of a bet as I had so much information and I actually had a very precise view on the enemy guys. So that as a pretty memorable mission. It went very well, the result was great. Everyone was happy. It took me out of my comfort zone and at that point it was one of the longest missions from the boat.”

Which aircraft have you flown DACT against?
“Against F-16, against Typhoon, against Super Hornets. Against Harrier. Against Alpha Jet. Against Mirage 2000.”

…which was the most challenging?
“The F-16 is pretty cool. Typhoon is a joke, very easy to shoot. F-16 actually was a good surprise actually, I found it to be a pretty good aircraft. I think the most challenging was the F-16, it’s a pretty small jet so it’s easy to lose sight of it. So I think that was the big one. The Harrier can really turn around pretty fast, so you have to play it very close so you have to be careful with that. And with the Alpha Jet don’t go into a slow fight with it. It can manoeuvre and do some rolls at pretty low speed, some barrel rolls at pretty low speeds so you really want to pay attention. You can easily be tricked at low speed by an Alpha Jet. So you want to keep your energy high.”

How good are the sensors?

“Sensors — we haves some pretty good sensors. The laser tracking device is being replaced now. It was ‘old skool‘ and not as good as it could have been. There’re doing a better job with the new one I’ve heard. Otherwise the other sensors are extremely good. The radar —— with the new one — is insanely great. The electronic warfare stuff is great as well. So it’s pretty good sensors. We have radar, we have electronic sensors, we have laser. We have basically, all the stuff. We have the small camera on the aircraft, it’s pretty good at day. You can use it air-ground or air-to-air – it’s a pretty good tool to have.”

How easy is to fly? What is the hardest thing about flying it?

“It’s an aircraft that’s easy to fly. It’s designed to be an easy aircraft to fly but one thing is you have a lack of feedback, you have no clue if you’re flying at 200 knots or mach 1.5. Same noise, same altitude, everything. It’s a big big trick and big concern in this generation of aircraft is feedback is poor, so deal with it. Be careful about time slipping by, be very very careful about your environment as you can be easily trapped we’ve had lots of close calls with young pilots getting trapped. Be very very careful about time slipping by or acceleration kicking in so you really want to be careful about that. So the lack of feedback is a difficult thing about the aircraft.”

What are the differences between the C and the M? Are there performance differences?

“C and M difference is about 650 kg, we have a bigger landing gear, bigger structure, a small hydraulic pump, we have access to the flight-deck that’s integrated in the aircraft – and we have much better pilots of course. In terms of performance, because you have a 650-kg difference, the nose is going to feel heavier in a Rafale M. Rafale C might be able to endure better in air-to-air combat because it’s lighter. But it’s no major difference – no concern.”

How would you rate the cockpit? Do you like the head-level display?
“The cockpit is great. Very very immersive. Everything is well designed – maybe the position of the safety horizon at 30 / 30 degrees to the right and down isn’t optimum, but you prioritise other instruments. It’s not something you have to use very often in real life — like I never had to use it. I never had to use it in SE, never had any screen issues. So it’s a very reliable aircraft. The HUD is awesome – it’s pretty big. We’d all like to have head-up displays in our helmets, but that’s life – we don’t have it right now. But it should be in the pipeline for the future.”

The cockpit seems very snug, are there large Rafale pilots?

“We do have larger Rafale pilots! But trust me, when you come from the Super Étendard you find the cockpit to be large! So really, no concern about that.”

Have you fired live weapons- if so, what was it like?

“Yes. Dropped bombs, shot missiles — it’s pretty cool. The aircraft is a very stable platform. I’ve shot with the gun too. The firing system is well done. It’s a bit stressful because you don’t want to *censored* up when you’re dealing with real ordnance. You really don’t want to *censored* up. From a general point of view every time you step into an aircraft you really have to be careful – so just keeping up the mindset and dealing with the pressure. Making sure you are prepared.”

Against a Super Hornet?

“Honestly the issue is comparing aircraft all the time. Life isn’t that easy. Combat is unfair. It’s never going to be fair. It isn’t designed to be fair. If you get into fair close combat you’re a bad pilot. Don’t put yourself in a fair fight in real life as that’s stupid. Manoeuvre — take advantage and surprise your enemy. It’s not about one individual defeating an enemy, you’re here to get results. We are result-driven personnel. It’s not all about me. You’ve got thousands of people building a Rafale, and building and maintaining carrier. There’s thousands of people making sure I can take-off -— if I want to go fair-against-fair, I’m stupid. What I want to is make sure I win. Why do I say that? If I’m going to fight against a Super Hornet, I’m going to find a tricky way to defeat him. Look at the Messerschmitt 262 back in World War Two, most of them got shot down on landing. An aircraft shot down still makes the count. If we have to face the US Navy, it’s going to be disproportionate in terms of numbers – it’s going bring entire tactics to another level. Now, you want me to do a fair 1-v-1 fight with a Hornet in close combat, actually I’d rather a Super Hornet; I find the C to be more manoeuvrable than the Super Hornet. As a Rafale we can take an advantage on a Hornet again. What I would be careful of is their AIM-9X and helmet visors. So I would be very careful about that.”

The Rafale and Typhoon are often compared, how confident would you be fighting against a Typhoon? And why?

“I don’t know why they’re compared so often – it’s really not the same design, ideas or philosophy. We’re a truly omnirole platform. Typhoons are great, they like to use their big engines at 40,000 feet. I can’t count how many times I’ve shot down Typhoons at 45,000 feet in the contrails. And my radar off, everything off, I was coming from 100 feet below, supersonic in the climb from below. Absolutely undetected. So I have absolutely no fear of the Typhoons. Both the tactics used by the Typhoons, the agility and the cockpit of the aircraft make it easier for us to take the advantage — basically we have better fusion of the sensors — so we can be way more aggressive in terms of tactics. It’s a great aircraft at high level, but we’re not dumb enough to try to fight Typhoons at 50,000 feet or 45,000 feet. We’re going to put them outside their comfort zone. Against devious tactics. Now if you want to rate a Typhoon with AMRAAMs against a Rafale at 50,000 ft, then, yeah, Typhoon is going to have better performances for sure. But as a Rafale pilot, I’m stupid if I take him on like that, so I’m going to move the combat a bit. I’ll fake a combat at 50,000 feet and I’m going to send a guy sneakily low level to surprise the Typhoon, it’s more easy than you think!”

Biggest myth?

“It is an aircraft that didn’t sell. It was truly finished before 2014 anyway in terms of omnirole. Once the aircraft was fully operational it sold right away. It’s not a bad aircraft, but it just took a while to develop, a lot of strategic reasons behind that, and now it’s developed it’s an awesome jet.”

How combat effective is it?

“It is really combat effective. You can switch to one mission from another.”

It is easy to maintain?

“I’m not a maintainer, but It looks easier to maintain than Super E and we have less emergencies than earlier generations.”

Something I don’t know about Rafale?

“I don’t know what you know! Oooh…ECS is loud as *censored*! You lose the ECS and you think you have a two engine fire! It happened to me once.”

Tips for new Rafale pilots?

“Keep it simple and stupid. Back to basics. Fly the aircraft first and don’t get tricked into trying all the buttons and the screens. Make sure you fly the aircraft. It isn’t giving you any feedback so you’re your own worst enemy in the cockpit — so make sure you don’t *censored* up. It’s going to accelerate very fast. Scan your instruments and make sure you keep that airspeed under control.”

How would you rate the Rafale’s ability to land back on deck with a heavy load of unused munitions and fuel? “It’s much less of an issue than it was maybe for the Super E, you have a better and more reactive engine so honestly when you come back heavy there is not a big difference for the pilot.

Hardest manoeuvre to pull off?

“Downward combat spiral from, maybe 45,000 feet to 5,000 feet, you are extremely close to your enemy — and it takes practice. You are metres away and spirally down together. Slow airspeed. And you’re just spirally down together at an extremely close distant, you are so close you can basically see what is on the other guy’s knees! And then spiralling further down – and first time you have to do that single-seat it’s quite an experience. You cannot do that in a Super E because you’re using the delta to sit the aircraft at a high AoA.”

Personal opinion: what should the Indian Aircraft Force procure?

“Pass. I’m not an expert. Recent experiences show, they could do with a couple of Rafale, maybe with full French stuff or maybe working with a mix of a different type of technology is good. French is good because there’s not as many limits as the US (like trade restrictions) and there’s some pretty nice stuff. I think the Indians are getting a really nice advanced version of Rafale. They should just get more.”

What should I have asked you?
“What was the biggest shock on Rafale? When you reduce the power. Go idle power power, airbrakes out at a low level — it’s impressive how fast it decelerates. It’s just insane. It’s actually almost more astonishing than the acceleration. When you cut the engine, go to idle power and put the ‘boards’ out – it’s impressive. On the other side, above mach 0.69 on the afterburner at low levels at air shows you’re just holding on to the stick and it’s a pretty unique sensation.”

What did you feel on your first deck launch and recovery?
“First deck launch is fun, you don’t have to do much. First recovery you’re stressed, you’re getting graded… there’s a lot of pressure and you’re just relieved.”

Navy or air force pilots…and why?

“Not sure I even have to answer that question. People will know anyway. Jokes aside, if the air force could land on a boat they would be doing it. We’re truly omni-role, we don’t have a choice. And also we have a more diverse type of flying. I was flying airshows and then I deployed like two weeks after switching from airshows to combat mission in a very short amount of time develops unique sets of adaptability. And most important a respect of timing – In Navy we try to go plus or minus two second s when we land. Lots of reasons behind it, but a small aircraft carrier gives you lost of constraints. so we’re really into precision and we’re more disciplined than the air force guys. I’ve got nothing against air force pilots, my dad was air force fighter pilot — they’re good guys. It’s just a bit different- our environment is so much more complex — so we have that increased discipline that really makes a difference.”

What equipment would you like to see integrated on the Rafale?

“A remote jammer that you can carry behind you — I think the Indians are going to get it — that’s something I’d like to see- like a towed decoy. It’s great. I think it would be good to communicate with the onboard systems, you can trick the missiles. And you can be more aggressive in terms of tactics if know the first missile is not going to hit you but is going to destroy your towed decoy.”

How would you rate the MICA?

“Is great… I like the singer. Jokes aside. MICA is a good missile. What really surprises people is its IR/EM capability – you can really switch. Overall it’s a good missile. I can’t complain but I haven’t used it in combat yet — a good training missile. Good stuff. I think it’s going to be good with the Meteor as well. Not unhappy with my missiles, but never used it in combat.”

How good is the high altitude performance?

“High altitude performance is great. It can take a couple of Gs even at 50,000 ft – you have two engines – and you can tell.”

Has the Rafale sufficient engine power, would you like more?

“You never have enough power. You find a guy who tells you he has too much power- he’s a liar – or he’s not manoeuvring his aircraft hard enough. The aircraft is overpowered in air show conditions — you know when you’re flying with all the bombs and stuff it’s not the same aircraft at all. Air-to-air it’s a good jet, but we could always always use more power – but then that means using more fuel maybe. I’ll go with a nine ton version – right now its 7.5 tons per engine – I’d go with a 9 ton version any day. That’s just how we are – we want extra power all the time.”

Do you feel confident flying against modern air defences in a non-stealthy aircraft?

“Great question. I’m not sure an aircraft’s stealthiness is going to make much difference anyway against very modern stuff. We’re not afraid of low level penetrations in the french air force. So come and get me with your S-400 if I’m at 200 feet above the ground — that’s not going to happen anytime soon so. I’m not afraid. It’s something we’re trained in and so it’s part of the job. And if you want a lot munitions or stores you’re going to lose on your stealthy signature anyway. So it’s not something of much concern – that’s why we train to keep current at very low level penetration. Which is really good as we get to fly at low level – which is awesome. I can’t complain.”

Rafale is described by many as the most beautiful fighter in production – how do you rate the aesthetics of Rafale?

I like it, I must confess I find the Mirage 2000 very good looking as well… and slimmer and maybe faster looking — and it is faster than the Rafale. Rafale is slower than the Mirage 2000. We’re talking Mach 1.8 against 2.2. But I like the design of Rafale aircraft a lot. I think it’s a good-looking aircraft, but then again, it’s like asking a dad if he thinks his kids are good-looking or not! So we’re biased anyway. But compared to Typhoon you can tell it’s a good-looking aircraft. I like the Hornet’s shape, I think that’s a good-looking aircraft too. And the F-22 is one of my favourite looking aircraft! The F-35? I really don’t like the design, I think it’s a shitty looking aircraft to be honest…but don’t quote me on that!”

How confident would you feel fighting a F-22 in WVR DACT?

“Obviously you have seen videos (see above). Is it going to be guns only? Is it going to be Sidewinders? If it’s gun only I don’t have any issue – if it’s Sidewinders — and he has his helmet-mounted stuff* and 9X then I’m going to be careful — I would be concerned. I definitely don’t have no concerns otherwise: it would be tougher for me because he has his 9X and mounted vizor. If I play my cards correctly there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be OK. I have questions, like what is the set-up? Is it going to be ‘Butterfly’ with one close to the other one? It really depends on these situation. But guns only? Honestly, no concern. And it’s a big aircraft so it’s easy to shoot at.”

*Editor note: as far as I know Raptors have not been fitted with HMS.

When did the French Navy procure the Rafale M and where were you trained?

“We got it in 2000/2001 as a replacement for the F-8 Crusader. I got trained back in 2014. I got my ground training with the French air force and I was fully trained. We all had different trainings possible and I went the full solo direct. I never flew with the air force. I only flew single seat Rafale M directly. So ground school with the air force and back to Landivisiau. Taxi the aircraft up to 200<100?> knots, abort the take-off. Then next mission you take off and you fly on your own, you break through the sound barrier and all that stuff. I did all my training on a single-seat Rafale never flew a two-seater.”

 
RAFALE F4 and beyong....

The F4 upgrade, planned for 2023, will introduce the new Mica NG air-to-air missile as well secure radios and satellite communication systems.
Updates to the RBE2 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar and the Spectra electronic warfare system are also planned.

The proposed F5 upgrade, planned for 2030, allows for the integration of the ASN4G missile, replacing the ASMP-A. It also paves the way for the use of remote carriers—the unmanned air systems that will complement the FCAS—performing surveillance and electronic warfare while flying ahead of or alongside the Rafale or NGF.
Perhaps the most significant upgrade in F5 will be what Parisot calls a virtual cognitive assistant—an artificial intelligence system capable of reconfiguring aircraft systems in the event of a failure, alerting the pilots to tactical situations, and advising on new routings.
Parisot likened the cognitive assistant to Iron Man’s “Jarvis” from the Marvel comics. Jarvis communicates with Iron Man through voice activation, a feature Parisot says the cognitive assistant will also require, noting it should operate “intuitively without excess chatter ... with a high level of trust, speakability and intelligibility.”
Most crucially, it will monitor pilots’ brain, heart and eye activity, looking out for what Parisot calls “cognitive overload.”
If detected, the system will deliver “cognitive countermeasures,” he explains, with the AI taking back tasks from the pilot and reducing the level of information on visual displays.
Work on the artificial intelligence is already underway through the Man-Machine Teaming advanced study program launched by Thales and Dassault in March 2018.
A critical element in being able to accelerate the upgrade process for the aircraft is ongoing work to separate the aircraft’s flight-critical software from its tactical systems. This is an approach adopted by Saab for its Gripen NG that allows upgrades to onboard systems to be delivered without the need for costly and time-consuming recertification. Additional connectivity could allow mission data to be updated in real time from electronic intelligence gathering such as the planned CUGE platform to replace the Transall Gabriel Sigint aircraft.
Parisot acknowledges the significant efforts underway to support collaborative operations. But he notes that elements of the Rafale force need to be able to operate in a “nonconnected mode of action ... this is critical for the deterrent mission.”

F6 and F7 upgrade plans are also envisioned and will be aligned with the upgrade path for the NGF.
Several studies are also underway to extend the Rafale’s airframe life from the current 5,000 hr. up to 7,500 and potentially 9,000 hr.
There are also studies taking place into whether additional power could be gleaned from the SafranM88 engine when the Rafale receives the new ASN4G.
 
A Look at the F-4 Rafale Upgrade Program

02/19/2019

By Pierre Tran - Paris

French Armed Forces minister Florence Parly announced Jan. 14 the award of a €1.9 billion ($2.2 billion) development contract to upgrade the Rafale fighter jet to an F4 standard, while evoking national sovereignty, operational capability and exports as key factors.

That budget was agreed after close negotiations between government and industry, a source close to the talks said.
“This is a guarantee of our sovereignty,” Parly said on a visit to the Dassault Aviation factory at Mérignac, next to Bordeaux, southwest France.
“This is a chance for our capabilities,” she added.
“It is also a necessary investment to ensure the Rafale’s competitiveness for exports in the coming decades and to safeguard the industrial sector for the fighter jet.”
Parly said she was proud to be the lead advocate for the Rafale in any prospective foreign deal, adding that the upgrade offered further argument in favor of the French fighter.
Dassault, MBDA, Safran and Thales are the four big companies working on the Rafale.

The main modernization features include a connectivity of data links with French and allied forces, greater detection and identification of threats, and fitting upgraded missiles.

A modernization to F4 was in response to the French Air Force’s “evolution of probable threat,” said Etienne Daum, manager for aeronautics, defense and security at think-tank CEIS, based here.
The F4 is important as a a step toward to the Future Combat Air System.

The F-4 upgrade is the first technology package which allows the French fighter to fly in a data network until the planned Next-Generation Fighter flies some time after 2035.

That fighter will be a key element in the FCAS, a European project for a system of systems, which will include a mix of piloted jets, unmanned armed drones and smart weapons.
A Rafale upgrade could be seen as a victory of pragmatism over a cultural stereotype of the French character which is said to favor philosophy.
The upgrades are due to be installed in two phases, with a first batch in 2023, followed by a second in 2025, the Armed Forces ministry said in a statement.
That incremental approach is intended to fit the features as soon as they are available, part of a new defense policy.

“The F4 standard is part of the ongoing process to continuously improve the Rafale in line with technological progress and operating experience feedback,” Dassault said in a statement.

The work will also allow more weapons to be fitted to aircraft, including Mica New Generation air-to-air missile and 1,000-kg AASM powered smart bomb.
Planned upgrades of the ASMP-A airborne nuclear-tipped missile and Scalp cruise weapon will also arm the F4.

France will order a further 30 Rafale in 2023, with delivery of the last 28 of the previous batch due by 2024, Parly said.
Dassault will be industrial architect, the company said.
“We will be responsible for implementing innovative connectivity solutions to optimize the effectiveness of our aircraft in networked combat (new satellite and intra-patrol links, communication server, software defined radio).”
There will be also be upgrades to the active electronically scanned array radar, front sector opto-electronic targeting system, and helmet-mounted display, the company said.
There will a new service contract and a prognosis and diagnostic aid system intended to deliver a predictive capability.
Maintenance will draw on the use of Big Data and artificial intelligence.
A new control unit for the M88 engine will be fitted.
The Spectra electronic warfare system and Talios targeting pod will be boosted, the ministry said.

The Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA), Joint Chiefs of staff and the service wing — Direction de la maintenance aéronautique (DMAé) – worked together to draw up the F4 requirement, seen as essential to maintain French capability with the introduction in Europe of the F-35 joint strike fighter.

France signed a development contract with MBDA for the Mica NG, the company said Nov. 11, 2018.
The weapons is intended to have greater range and sensitivity in sensors,with lower service cost.
 
What next after F4?

F5 is intended for 2030. One of the main new attributes : the remote carriers.

F6 is intended for 2040.
 
F4, F5, F6....
While the Rafale fighter aircraft from Dassault Aviation is a robust and efficient aircraft in many areas, whether it be air-to-air combat or very low-altitude penetration, including reconnaissance or nuclear strike, there is one area in which the French device fully surpasses all of its competitors, scalability. Indeed, unlike the Swedish Gripen, the Eurofighter Typhoon and even the F35, the French aircraft has been modernized by successive layer up to the F3R standard, without the cell needing to be modified. And the first Rafale F1 which equipped the 12F flotilla of the French naval aeronautics in 2001 to replace the old F8 Crusaders, fly or will fly soon to this same F3R standard as the last aircraft left the assembly line.

The F4 standard will however create an exception in this spectacular and remarkable balance sheet, since only the most recent devices can be upgraded to the F4.2 standard, the same that will allow the evolution to the later F5 standard planned for 2030, and F6 planned for 2040, concomitantly with the entry into service of the Franco-German SCAF. But the information gathered on this F4.2 standard like that on the future F5 standard, as well as the philosophy that emanates from the developments of the systems of the SCAF program, suggests the anticipated arrival of a Game Changer potential for the French air force as well as for the international Rafale customers from 2030: the Remote Carrier.
 
Rafale: the F4 standard is revealed


In January 2019, when the first Rafale to the F3R standard arrived in the Air Force, the Minister of the Armed Forces took advantage of a visit to the Dassault Aviation plant in Mérignac to officially launch the development of a new standard. major, the F4. Enough to allow the aircraft to increase its operational performance, but also to remain competitive in the years to come, especially against the Lockheed Martin F ‑ 35.

On the F3R standard, the latest to date for the Rafale, efforts have mainly focused on updating the software and improving the sensors and armaments: AESA antenna for the RBE2 radar; integration of the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile; new TALIOS laser designation pod (Targeting Long-range Identification Optronic System); integration of GBU ‑ 16 and AASM Bk.3 bombs. With the F4 standard, the idea this time is to focus on issues of connectivity and network combat, which implies profound changes in both software and hardware. And, for the first time, the perfect technical interoperability of the Rafale fleet could well be undermined with an F4.1 standard for the existing Rafale and an F4.2 for the 58 aircraft still to be delivered to France. While all the devices will receive software updates and will be able to integrate the various modernized modular elements, such as the AESA radar or a new OSF (Frontal Sector Optronics), only F4.2 devices will receive all the hardware modifications of the standard. F4, especially in electronic warfare. A priori, these aircraft should also have precautionary measures for deeper modernizations in the context of subsequent standards, or a possible mid-life renovation of the Rafale.

Connectivity, engagement and availability

The first risk-lifting studies on the Rafale F4 standard began in 2017, the scope of the standard being determined the following year for a development launch in January 2019. At present, if the ambitions of the DGA and the GIE Rafale International on this new standard are clearly defined, all the details of the configuration would not have been fixed. As always, compromises will have to be made between operational needs, respect for the budgetary envelope and industrial imperatives. The open architecture of the Rafale should allow an incremental implementation of the new standard, with certain functionalities available from 2022, the validation of the complete standard not taking place until 2024 for delivery to the forces in 2025.

• interconnectivity;

• device support and availability;

• improvement of sensors;

• modernization of armaments.

In these different fields, many innovations have appeared in recent years. Thus, the computer components of modern weapon systems today increasingly rely on artificial intelligence for massive data processing, which has become essential for managing the complexity of the battlefield, but also for improving tools. predictive maintenance. Likewise, advances in applied chemistry have made it possible to improve missile propulsion, or to make the use of gallium nitride (GaN) affordable, which improves the performance of the AESA antennas of the Rafale's self-protection system. , the famous SPECTRA.

Communication and connectivity

If the Rafale were to have only one flaw, it would probably be its radio. Without being catastrophic, it seems quite far from current standards in terms of signal strength and clarity. With the F4 standard, the Rafale will finally be equipped with a brand new digital communication system which should improve pilots' situational awareness, including in electronically contested environments:

• the devices will thus receive CONTACT software radio, the new standard of the French armies allowing the various actors present in the theater to share a common operational image;

• a new intra-patrol tactical data link, discreet and directional, should also integrate the Rafale, alongside the current L-16. This link will be based on three-dimensional waveforms (FO3D) generated by digital synthesis;

• the Rafales should be equipped, at the bottom of the drift, with a military-grade, encrypted, discreet and SYRACUSE IV compatible SATCOM, which could be derived from the SAKaR unveiled by Thales in November 2018;

• the management of these communication sets, in addition to the existing data links, should be entrusted to a new generation of communication servers, possibly derived from Thales NEXENs, making it possible to simplify the task of the crew while ensuring encryption and cyber data protection.

All of this equipment should make it possible to create real communication networks within a Rafale patrol, but also, via SATCOM and CONTACT, throughout an entire theater of operations. Each pilot will thus have access to an extended tactical situation allowing long-range network combat, even in complex environments. The Rafale can also serve as a radio relay between ground troops and metropolitan decision-making centers, or follow the evolution of a tactical situation live from the start of their transit phase. In many respects, this is the real raison d'être of the F4 standard, which allows the Rafale to catch up with its connectivity delay on the F-35, mentioned in 2017 by the chief of staff of the Air Force in front of the National Assembly.

Sensors and interface

In line with the F3R standard, the F4 should bring improvements in terms of detection. For the AESA RBE2 radar, the modifications will mainly be software with the addition of a GMTI (Ground Moving Target Indicator) mode for the detection and tracking of mobile land targets, as well as an ultra-HD mode for imaging. long range radar. Mode interleaving should be further improved, in part thanks to the continued increase in computing power offered by the Rafale's open architecture, which should be completely modernized and made more resistant to cyber attacks. If the GaN-based AESA technology today seems too expensive to be applied to the antenna of an RBE2, it should be applied to those of the SPECTRA system, responsible in particular for wiretapping and jamming. SPECTRA should thus gain in frequency agility, angular precision, detection speed and transmission power, while operating over a wider range of frequencies, against aerial or surface contact. In terms of sensors, the great "novelty" should relate to the return of an IR channel on board the OSF, a capability abandoned a few years ago, but which was requested in particular by the French army. Indian air.

In terms of interface, the choice was made not to upset the existing ergonomics. In the cockpit, the side screens have been slightly enlarged and equipped with a new touch interface. The great ergonomic novelty should therefore be a helmet display, planned at the start of the program, but canceled twice in the past. Although the system is eagerly awaited by the pilots, all the obstacles have not yet been overcome. Indeed, the financial and operational logic pushes towards the choice of an Israeli solution already integrated on the Rafale export, while Thales logically militates for a national solution.

Armaments

After the integration of the Meteor into the F3R, the Rafale F4 armaments panel should expand further:

• the SCALP EG missile should be reconditioned by MBDA in order to deal with obsolescence and cell aging. The first refurbished SCALPs will be delivered next year and will serve until the early 2030s;

• AASM armament should evolve further, with the appearance of a simplified Bk.4, devoid of propulsion and optimized for close air support. A 1000 kg version of the AASM should also be integrated into the Rafale in the coming years, replacing the GBU ‑ 24;

• but the great innovation in terms of armament will be the MICA ‑ NG which will complete the Meteor on the medium range. If it maintains the aerodynamics, mass and balance of the MICA, the MICA ‑ NG will be a highly efficient missile. The radar-guided version will have a more powerful AESA antenna, but also more resistant to jamming. The MICA ‑ IR infrared seeker will be entitled to a new matrix sensor that is more sensitive and capable of better discriminating against adverse decoys. Finally, the miniaturization of the electronic compartment allows the transport of more propellant for the engine, which has a double impulse capacity. Enough to increase the MICA's range by 30%, while allowing it to keep energy in reserve to maneuver during the interception phase.

It should be noted that the integration of laser-guided rockets and the development of a new nuclear missile are the subject of separate programs and are therefore not taken into account in the context of the F4 standard.

Support and availability

As with every standard change, significant efforts have been made in terms of Maintenance in Operational Condition (MCO) and use costs, this time with a more extensive integration of the latest digital technologies. Today, the Harpagon technical restitution and logistics management system already makes it possible to do without a large part of periodic inspections on the Rafale, in particular by improving the remedial treatment of breakdowns and by making it possible to better anticipate preventive maintenance. The F3R standard already integrates diagnostic assistance functions using the data collected by the hundreds of sensors distributed throughout the cell of the device.

However, improving algorithms and computing power will make it possible to multiply the collection and use of massive data after each Rafale flight. Enough to set up, in the years to come, a real forecast maintenance which will further reduce the cost of operational support and improve availability ... if all the spare parts are not monopolized in OPEX, which is another thing. problem.

With the F4 standard, the entire logistics chain will therefore be updated in order to prepare for the gradual generalization of forecast maintenance methods. The Harpagon system will undergo a new development, miniaturized sensors will be integrated into the MICA ‑ NGs and the M88 reactor will receive a modernization of its FADECs, with new computers providing more data processing power. For Safran Aircraft Engines, massive collection of technical data is essential to improve engine efficiency, reduce maintenance costs, but also prepare for the future, in this case the motorization of the Franco-German SCAF.

As we can see, the successive standards of the Rafale bring their share of incremental modernizations, and the F4 is no exception to this rule. If, externally, the new standard does not seem to induce such significant changes as the F3R which saw the arrival of the RBE2 AESA and the Meteor, the evolution is nevertheless much more impressive on the numerical level, promising a major operational breakthrough in terms of tactical situational awareness, network-centric combat, electronic warfare, cyber protection and passive detection. Better still, the F4 is now preparing for the future evolutions of the Rafale, whether it concerns predictive maintenance, multistatic detection, precautionary measures for future plate radars distributed over the airframe of the aircraft or the improvement of electronic warfare capabilities, including offensives. Enough to allow the Rafale to remain a formidable adversary in the decades to come, even in the face of stealth planes.
 
An excerpt from a Finnish magazine called "Siivet" on Rafale :

"What about SPECTRA? Can you fly safely in the forbidden airspace?

Former Rafale pilot Joseph Barraco answers:
We have proof of that. We have faced the most difficult defences, such as the Russian S-300. The latest MACE (Multidomain Airborne Cyber and Electronic warfare) exercise included the Rafale, Typhoon, Hornet, Growler and Gripen.

The Finnish Exercise Manager said at the press briefing that the Rafale was the best of the exercise. It is not just SPECTRA, but many capabilities. The SPECTRA is part of the Survivability Capability, as are the two engines and the AGCAS. The problem is that we cannot talk about SPECTRA. It is difficult to explain the power of the system. But it has a status that everybody knows.

I have worked with Growlers, which are pretty much the same but different. We did the same mission, but in a different way. We deal with the whole spectrum of targeting. SPECTRA is part of sensor fusion and is designed for passive targeting. It is part of the stealth aircraft detection system. It does targeting, jamming, protection and information sharing.

One of the characteristics of the system is its adaptability. If you are stealthy, you always use the same tactics, because it only protects you in one way. Stealth is a geometric feature. It's not 360 degrees, so it's predictable. If the radars are operating on a different frequency or in a different direction, they will detect you. The Rafale can operate with great flexibility and use different systems and tactics," says Barraco.
 

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