The Dassault Rafale is a French twin-engined delta-wing agile multi-role 4.5th-generation jet fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. Introduced in 2000, the Rafale is being produced both for land-based use with the French Air Force and for carrier-based operations with the French Navy. It has also been marketed for export to several countries but has not yet received orders.
In the mid-1970s, both the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air) and Navy (Aéronavale) had requirements (the Navy's being rather more pressing) to find a new generation of fighters (principally to replace Air Force SEPECAT Jaguars and Navy F-8 Crusaders), and their requirements were similar enough to be merged into one project. In 1983, France awarded Dassault a contract for two Avion de Combat eXpérimental (ACX) demonstrators. European nations, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom agreed to jointly develop a new fighter in the early 1980s. Disagreement over the fighter's size and project leadership led France and the other nations to split in 1985. France developed the smaller Rafale, while the other nations developed what would later be named the Eurofighter Typhoon.
The Rafale A technology demonstrator was rolled out in late 1985 and made its maiden flight on 4 July 1986. The SNECMA M88 engine was being developed and was not considered sufficiently mature for the initial trials programme, so the demonstrator flew with General Electric F404-GE-400 afterburning turbofans as used on the F/A-18 Hornet. Production orders were placed in 1988.
Further testing continued, including carrier touch-and-go landings and test-flying early M88 engines, before the Rafale A was retired in 1994. Though the Rafale A and British Aerospace EAP were broadly comparable, when the first Eurofighter made its maiden flight in March 1994, pre-series Rafales had been flight-testing for three years, including carrier trials; Rafale C01, Rafale M01, and Rafale B01 first flew in May 1991, December 1991, and April 1993 respectively.
Three versions of Rafale were in the initial production order:
Rafale C (Chasseur) Single-seat fighter for the AdA (Armée de l'Air, French Air Force)
Rafale B (Biplace) Two-seat fighter for the AdA
Rafale M (Marine) Single-seat carrier fighter for the Aéronavale
The prototype Rafale C flew in 1991, the first of two Rafale M prototypes flew later that year. The prototype Rafale B flew in early 1993, and the second Rafale M prototype flew later that year. Catapult trials were initially carried out between 13 July and 23 August 1992 at NAS Lakehurst in New Jersey, USA and NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, USA, as France had no land-based catapult test facility. The aircraft then undertook trials aboard the carrier FS Foch.
Initially, the Rafale B was to be just a trainer, but Gulf War and Kosovo experience showed that a second crew member is invaluable on strike and reconnaissance missions, and therefore more Rafale Bs were ordered, replacing some Rafale Cs. 60% of the aircraft will be two seaters. The navy investigated a naval version of the two-seat version. No production aircraft or prototypes were built.
Political and economic uncertainty meant that it was not until 1999 that a production Rafale M flew.
The French forces were expected to order 294 Rafales: 234 for the Air Force and 60 for the Navy. To date, 120 Rafales have been officially ordered. These are being delivered in three separate batches, the most recent being the December 2004 order for 59 Rafales.
The marine version has priority since the aircraft it is replacing are much older F-8E(FN) Crusader fighters. Service deliveries began in 2001 and the type "entered service" on 4 December 2000, though the first squadron, Flotille 12, did not actually reform until 18 May 2001. The unit embarked on the Charles de Gaulle in 2002, becoming fully operational on 25 June 2004, following an extended operational evaluation that included flying limited escort and tanker missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom over Afghanistan.
The Armee de l'Air received its first three Rafale Bs (to F2 standards) in late December 2004. They went to the Centre d'Expériences Aériennes Militaires (CEAM) at Mont-de-Marsan for operational evaluation and associated pilot conversion training.
The total programme cost, as of 2008, is around €39.6 billion, which translates to a unit programme cost of approximately €138.5 million. The unit flyaway price as of 2008 is €64 million for C version (Air Force), and €70 million for the Navy version.
Total costs, as of 2011, have been estimated to have escalated to €53 billion.
1985 France formally withdraws from Eurofighter programme, committing to Rafale project.
1986 July 4: First flight of Rafale A; December: Development of SNECMA M88 engines commences
1988 April: First order signed (for Rafale C prototype).
1990 February: Flight tests of M88 begin
1991 May 19: First flight of Armée de l'Air single seat prototype (Rafale C); December 12: First flight of Aéronavale prototype (Rafale M)
1992 Rafale M carrier trials programme begins
1993 March: First contract for production aircraft signed. April: Start of carrier compatibility trials with Foch. 30 April: First flight of Armée de l'Air twin seat prototype (Rafale B)
1995 June: First MICA fired from Rafale in self guided mode. July: OSF system and helmet-mounted sight/display installed and tested. September: Rafale M tested on board carrier (4th series). November: First non-stop long-range flight by Rafale B01 (3,020 nm in under 6 hours 30 minutes). October: Final land-based carrier test series of Rafale M in the USA. December: First production model fuselage assembly.
1996 March: M88 engine "flightworthiness" qualified. April: Production suspended, restarted in January 1997 following cost reductions. May: Low level tests with digital terrain database. July: Spectra electronic warfare system integration tests in anechoic chamber. November: Spectra flight tested. December: First deliveries of production standard engines.
1997 February: Rafale B01 flight tested in heavyweight configuration (2 Apache ASMs, three 2,000 l drop tanks, two Magic and two MICA AAMs). May: First inertially-guided MICA firing. June: Flight testing of Spectra countermeasures system. October: First production RBE2 radar flown for the first time. November: Inertially-guided firing of missiles against two targets, with aircraft-to-missile link, with countermeasures.
1998 June: Qualification of MICA fire control system. Proposed initial operational capability evaluated by Navy and Air Force pilots flying Rafale B01 and M02 development aircraft. 24 November: First flight of production Rafale (a Rafale B)
1999 May: First test launch of SCALP EG cruise missile. 6 July: First deck landing on Charles de Gaulle. 7 July: First flight of production Rafale M
2000 20 July: First Rafale M delivered to Flotille 12F
2002 Rafale M entered service with 12F (Aéronavale, evaluation)
2004 Full service entry with 12F (Navy); 9 September: First Meteor GHTM (General Handling Training Missiles) carriage trials by Rafale M from CEV Istres; June:December: Three Rafale Bs delivered to CEAM, Mont de Marsan
2005 September 11: First Meteor GHTM carriage trials by Rafale M from the carrier Charles de Gaulle.
2006 Summer: Formation of EC 1/7 with 8-10 aircraft
2007 Full service entry (Air Force) expected with EC7; First landing of Rafale M on US Navy carrier USS Enterprise
2008 Rafale qualified to full F3 standard.
The Rafale features a delta wing combined with active integrated (Close-coupled) canard to maximize maneuverability (withstanding +9 g or -3 g) while maintaining stability in flight, a maximum of 11 g can be reached in case of emergency. The canard also reduces landing speed to 115 knots. According to internal sources (Les essais en vol du Rafale) low speed limit is 100 kt but 80 kt is sometimes demonstrated during airshows by pilots willing to underline low speed qualities of the aircraft." "A minimum of 15 kt have been reached during simulated combat vs a Mirage 2000 by an aggressive pilot." The aircraft can operate from 400 meter runways.
The Rafale carries an integrated electronic survival system named SPECTRA which features a software-based virtual stealth technology. The most important sensor is the Thales RBE2 passive electronically scanned multi-mode radar. Thales claims to have achieved unprecedented levels of situational awareness through the earlier detection and tracking of multiple air targets for close combat and long-range interception, as well as real time generation of three-dimensional maps for terrain-following and the real time generation of high resolution ground maps for navigation and targeting.
In circumstances when signature management is required, the Rafale can use several passive sensor systems. The front-sector electro-optical system or Optronique Secteur Frontal (OSF), developed by Thales, is completely integrated within the aircraft and can operate both in the visible and infrared wavelengths.
The SPECTRA electronic warfare system, jointly developed by Thales and EADS France, provides the aircraft with the highest survivability assets against airborne and ground threats. The real-time data link allows communication not only with other aircraft, but also with fixed and mobile command and control centres. For those missions requiring it, the Rafale will also eventually use the Damoclès electro-optical/laser designation pod that brings full day and night LGB capability, though the Armée de l'Air's current plans call for Rafale to use stand off weapons, and for the LGB role to be handled by Dassault Mirage 2000s.
The Rafale core systems employ an Integrated Modular Avionics (IMA), called MDPU (Modular Data Processing Unit). This architecture hosts all the core functions of the aircraft as Flight management system, Data Fusion, Fire Control, Man-Machine Interface, etc.
The total value of the radar, electronic communications and self-protection equipment is about 30% of the cost of the entire plane.
The Rafale's ground attack capability is limited by the lack of an advanced targeting pod, but this will be rectified with the addition of Thales Optronique's Reco NG/Areos reconnaissance and Damocles targeting pods on the F-3 standard.
The new Thales RBE2 AA Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar is planned to replace the existing passively scanned array of the RBE2. Thales will begin deliveries of the new radar in August 2010 for use on the fourth tranche of Rafale aircraft. A total of 60 tranche four aircraft have been ordered to date. The first AESA-equipped squadron of aircraft is expected to become operational in 2012. Thales also claims that the AESA radar will improve the operational capabilities of the aircraft in terms of range, interception, tracking ability and countermeasures.
The cockpit uses a Martin-Baker Mark 16F "zero-zero" ejection seat, i.e., capable of being used at zero speed and zero altitude. The seat is inclined 29 degrees backwards to improve G force tolerance. The canopy hinges open to the right. An on-board oxygen generating system is provided to eliminate the need for multiple oxygen canisters.
The cockpit includes a wide-angle holographic head-up display (HUD), two head-down flat-panel colour multi-function displays (MFDs) and a center collimated display. Display interaction is by means of touch input for which the pilot wears silk-lined leather gloves. In addition, in full development, the pilot will have a head-mounted display (HMD).
The pilot flies the aircraft with a side-stick controller mounted on his right and a throttle on his left. These incorporate multiple hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls. The Rafale cockpit is also planned to include Direct Voice Input (DVI), allowing for pilot action by voice commands.
Radar signature reduction features
Although not a true stealth aircraft, the Rafale has reduced radar signature according to Dassault, while most of the stealth design features are classified, extensive use of composite materials and serrated patterns on the trailing edges of the wings and canards help to reduce the radar cross section.
Initial deliveries of the Rafale M were to the F1 ("France 1") standard. This meant that the aircraft was suitable for air-to-air combat, replacing the obsolescent F-8 Crusader as the Aviation Navale's carrier-based fighter, but not equipped or armed for air-to-ground operations. Actual deliveries (to Flotille 11 some time after 2007) are to the "F2" standard, giving air-to-ground capability, and replacing the Dassault-Breguet Super Étendard in the ground attack role and the Dassault Étendard IVP in the reconnaissance role. This will leave the Rafale M as the only fixed-wing combat aircraft flown by the Aviation Navale, and plans are to upgrade all airframes to the "F3" standard, with terrain-following 3D radar and nuclear capability, from early in the decade following 2010. This upgrade has been brought forwards to 2010 for the first 10 French Navy Rafale F-1's.
The first Rafale C delivered to the Armée de l'Air, in June 2005, was to the "F2" standard, and it is anticipated that upgrades similar to those of the navy will take place in the future. The Rafale replaces the SEPECAT Jaguar, Mirage F1 and the Mirage 2000 in the Armée de l'Air.
The Rafale is now in service in the trials and training role with the French Air Force (CEAM/EC 5/330) and EC 1/7 at Saint-Dizier is expected to receive a nucleus of 8-10 Rafale F2s during the Summer of 2006, and it looks set to enter full operational service (with robust air-to-air and stand off air-to-ground precision attack capabilities) during mid-2007 (when EC 1/7 will have about 20 aircraft, 15 two-seaters and 5 single-seaters). The aircraft is already in limited operational service with the French Navy (Flotille 12F) in the air-to-air role, and has undertaken a great deal of air-to-ground trials and evaluation work.
The Rafale M is fully compatible with US Navy aircraft carriers and some French Navy pilots have qualified to fly the aircraft from US Navy flight decks.
The first Rafale deployed in a combat zone were those of the French Navy during Opération Héraclès, the French participation in "Operation Enduring Freedom". They flew from the Charles de Gaulle over Afghanistan as early as 2002, but the F1 standard precluded air-to-ground missions and the Rafale did not see any action.
In June 2002, while Charles de Gaulle was in the Arabian Sea, armed Rafale fighters participated in interposition patrols near the India-Pakistan border, marking a significant point in the Rafale M's operational career and its integration with the carrier.
In 2007, after a "crash program" enhancement six Rafales were given the ability to drop laser-guided bombs, in view of engaging them in Afghanistan. Three of these aircraft belonging to the Air Force were deployed to Dushanbe in Tajikistan, while the three others were Rafale Marines of the Navy on board the Charles De Gaulle. The first mission occurred on 12 March 2007, and the first GBU-12 was launched on 28 March in support of embattled Dutch troops in Southern Afghanistan, marking the operational début of the Rafale. They still have to rely on Mirage 2000Ds and Super Étendards carrying laser designation pods to designate their targets.
The Rafale is planned to be the French Air Force's primary combat aircraft until 2040 or later.
In November 2009 the French government ordered an additional 60 aircraft to take the total order for the French Air Force and Navy to 180.
On 4 June 2010, a French Rafale became the first jet fighter of a foreign navy to have its jet engine changed onboard an American aircraft carrier, during an exercise on the USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75).
Several countries have shown interest in purchasing the Rafale. The Rafale is one of the six fighter jets competing for India's tender for 126 multi-role fighters. In April 2009, news reports stated the Rafale had been disqualified from the competition for not meeting minimum performance requirements of the Indian Air Force and that other competing aircraft, namely Mikoyan MiG-35, General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, JAS 39 Gripen and Eurofighter Typhoon, qualified for the next round of evaluation. The Indian Defence Ministry denied this report; an IAF spokesman stated, "we have not ruled anyone out yet in the MMRCA competition".Reports suggested Rafale and Typhoon have entered the final stage of the contest.
In January 2006, the French newspaper Journal du Dimanche reported that Libya wanted to order 13-18 Rafales "in a deal worth as much as $3.24 billion". In December 2007, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi openly declared the Libyan interest in the Rafale. Greece has also expressed an interest in the French fighter, possibly in exchange for its fleet of Mirages.
In 2006 the British Royal Navy considered the Rafale as an alternative to the F-35 JSF but decided to proceed with the F-35. However the British aircraft carriers will be modified in order to operate French Rafales.
In February 2007, it was reported that Switzerland was considering the Rafale and other fighters to replace its F-5 Tiger IIs. The one month evaluation started in October 2008 at Emmen Airforce Base consisting of approx. 30 evaluation flights. The Rafale along with the Gripen and the Eurofighter were to be evaluated.
In September 2007, La Tribune reported that a sale to Morocco had fallen through, the government selecting Lockheed Martin's F-16 instead. In October 2007, La Tribune's earlier report appeared to have been confirmed that the Rafale would not be bought.
In January 2008, O Estado de São Paulo reported that the Brazilian Defence Minister visited France to discuss the possibility of acquiring Rafale fighters for the F-X2 program. In June 2008, the Brazilian Air Force divulged a Request For Information to the following companies and their aircraft: Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, Dassault Rafale, Sukhoi Su-35, Saab Gripen NG and Eurofighter Typhoon. In October 2008, it was reported that Brazilian Air Force had selected three finalists for F-X2; Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen NG and Boeing F/A-18E/F. On 7 September 2009, during a visit by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Brazil announced a pact with France and that the nations are in contract negotiations to buy 36 Rafales. The crash of two Rafales in the Mediterranean off Perpignan on 24 September 2009 after a midair collision, comes at a delicate time for the Brazil-France negotiations. On 5 January 2010, media reports stated that the final evaluation report by the Brazilian Air Force placed the Gripen ahead of the other two contenders. The decisive factor was apparently the overall cost of the new fighters, both in terms of unit cost, and operating and maintenance costs. Some sources say that Rafale was chosen by the Defense Ministry, but there has been no confirmation on this.
In February 2009, French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced that Kuwait was considering buying up to 28 Rafales, but with no firm order then. The same month, France offered Rafales to Oman to replace its ageing fleet of SEPECAT Jaguars. But in 2010, Oman prefers to order the Typhoon.
The UAE was interested in a version of the Rafale that would be upgraded with more powerful engines and radar and advanced air to air missiles. They have now started to explore a purchase of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. This is reported to be because France's Defense Minister Hervé Morin has asked the UAE to pay 2 billion euros of the total cost to upgrade the Rafale to match the Super Hornet's advancements.
Leaked United States State Department cables have said that "French representatives have tried to spin the Rafale's dismal performance in the global market to be the result of U.S. government political pressure rather than the aircraft's shortcomings".
A technology demonstrator that first flew in 1986. It has now been retired.
Dassault used this designation (D for discret or stealthy) in the early 1990s for the production versions for the Armée de l'Air, to emphasise the new semi-stealthy features they had added to the design.
This is the two-seater version for the Armée de l'Air; delivered to EC 330 in 2004.
This is the single-seat version for the Armée de l'Air; delivered to EC 330 in June 2004.
This is the carrier-borne version for the Aéronavale, which entered service in 2002. The Rafale M weighs about 500 kg (1,100 lb) more than the Rafale C. Very similar to the Rafale C in appearance, the M differs in the following respects:
Strengthened to withstand the rigors of carrier-based aviation
Stronger landing gear
Longer nose gear leg to provide a more nose-up attitude for catapult launches
Deleted front centre pylon (to give space for the longer gear)
Large stinger-type tailhook between the engines
Built-in power operated boarding ladder
Carrier microwave landing system
"Telemir" inertial reference platform that can receive updates from the carrier systems.
The Rafale N, originally called the Rafale BM, was planned to be a two-seater version for the Aéronavale. Budget constraints and the cost of training extra crew members have been cited as the grounds for its cancellation.
Length: 15.27 m (50.1 ft)
Wingspan: 10.80 m (35.4 ft)
Height: 5.34 m (17.5 ft)
Wing area: 45.7 m² (492 ft²)
Empty weight: 9,500 kg (C), 9,770 kg (B), 10,196 kg (M) ()
Loaded weight: 14,016 kg (30,900 lb)
Max takeoff weight: 24,500 kg (C/D), 22,200 kg (M) (54,000 lb)
Powerplant: 2× Snecma M88-2 turbofans
Dry thrust: 50.04 kN (11,250 lbf) each
Thrust with afterburner: 75.62 kN (17,000 lbf) each
High altitude: Mach 2 (2,390 km/h, 1,290 knots)
Low altitude: 1,390 km/h, 750 knots
Range: 3,700+ km (2,000+ nmi)
Combat radius: 1,852+ km (1,000+ nmi) on penetration mission .
Service ceiling: 16,800 m (55,000 ft)
Rate of climb: 304.8+ m/s (1,000+ ft/s)
Wing loading: 306 kg/m² (62.8 lb/ft²)
Thrust/weight: 1.10 (100% fuel, 2 EM A2A missile, 2 IR A2A missile)
Guns: 1× 30 mm (1.18 in) GIAT 30/719B cannon with 125 rounds
Hardpoints: 14 For Armée de l'Air version (Rafale B,C), 13 for Aéronavale version (Rafale M with a capacity of 9,500 kg (21,000 lb) external fuel and ordnance.
MICA IR/EM or
Magic II and in the future
MBDA Apache or
SCALP EG or
GBU-12 Paveway II or
AM 39 Exocet or
ASMP-A nuclear missile
Thales Damocles targeting pod
RECO NG reconnaissance pod
up to 5 drop tanks
The Rafale can also carry a buddy-buddy refuelling pod
Thales RBE2 radar
Thales SPECTRA electronic warfare system.
Thales/SAGEM OSF (Optronique Secteur Frontal) infrared search and track system.