Rafale is a twin-jet combat aircraft capable of carrying out a wide range of short and long-range missions, including ground and sea attack, air defence and air superiority, reconnaissance, and high-accuracy strike or nuclear strike deterrence.
The aircraft has been developed for the French Air Force and Navy. 61 aircraft were ordered (36 for the air force and 25 for the navy).
The Rafale M entered service in 2001, and ten aircraft are operational on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.
Rafale B and C entered service with the French Air Force in June 2006, when the first squadron was established. The second air force squadron was set up in 2008.
Navy Rafale F1 standard fighters have air-to-air capability. Deliveries to the navy of the F2 standard, with air-to-ground missiles, began in May 2006 and 17 were delivered in May 2008. F1 aircraft are to be upgraded.
A €3.1bn ($3.89bn) contract to develop the fully capable F3 standard aircraft was awarded to Dassault Aviation (€1.5bn), Snecma (€600mn), Thales (€500mn) and other French defence contractors by French Ministry of Defence in February 2004. An order for 59 F3 aircraft, 47 for the air force (11 two-seat and 36 single-seat) and 12 (single-seat) for the navy, was placed in December 2004. The Rafale F3 was certified in July 2008 and delivered from 2009. The first squadron of 20 aircraft was in service by the end of 2009. The contract also includes the upgrade of Rafale F2 aircraft.
As of July 2008, 120 Rafales have been ordered (82 for the French Air Force and 38 for French Navy), with 35 delivered to the air force and 23 to the navy.
In March 2007, three French Air Force and three Navy Rafale fighters began deployment in Tajikistan in support of the Nato International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
The cockpit has hands-on throttle and stick control (HOTAS). The cockpit is equipped with a head-up, wide-angle holographic display from Thales Avionique, which provides aircraft control data, mission data and firing cues.
A collimated, multi-image head-level display presents tactical situation and sensor data, and two touch-screen lateral displays show the aircraft system parameters and mission data.
The pilot also has a helmet-mounted sight and display. A CCD camera and on-board recorder records the image of the head-up display throughout the mission.
The Rafale can carry payloads of over 9t on 14 hardpoints for the air force version, and 13 for the naval version. The range of weapons includes: Mica, Magic, Sidewinder, ASRAAM and AMRAAM air-to-air missiles; Apache, AS30L, ALARM, HARM, Maverick and PGM100 air-to-ground missiles; and Exocet / AM39, Penguin 3 and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
For a strategic mission the Rafale can deliver the MBDA (formerly Aerospatiale) ASMP stand-off nuclear missile. In December 2004, the MBDA Storm Shadow / Scalp EG stand-off cruise missile was qualified on the Rafale.
In September 2005, the first flight of the MBDA Meteor BVRAAM beyond visual range air-to-air missile was conducted on a Rafale fighter. In December 2005, successful flight trials were carried out from the Charles de Gaulle of the range of Rafale’s weapon systems – Exocet, Scalp-EG, Mica, ASMP-A (to replace the ASMP) and Meteor missiles.
In April 2007, the Rafale carried out the first firing of the Sagem AASM (armement air-sol modulaire – air-to-groung modular weapon) precision-guided bomb, which has both GPS / inertial guidance and, optionally, imaging infrared terminal guidance. Rafale have been equipped with the AASM from 2008. Rafale can carry six AASM misssiles, with each aiming to hit the target with 10m accuracy.
The Rafale has a twin gun pod and a Nexter (formerly Giat) 30mm DEFA 791B cannon, which can fire 2,500 rounds a minute.
The Rafale is equipped with laser designation pods for laser guidance of air-to-ground missiles.
The Rafale’s electronic warfare system is the Spectra from Thales. Spectra incorporates solid state transmitter technology, radar warner, DAL laser warning receiver, missile warning, detection systems and jammers.
The Rafale is equipped with an RBE2 passive electronically scanned radar developed by Thales which has look down and shoot down capability. The radar can track up to eight targets simultaneously and provides threat identification and prioritisation.
Thales is developing an active electronically scanned version of the RBE2 which will equip the Rafale from 2012. Flight tests of the radar onboard the Rafale took place in 2008.
The optronic systems include the Thales / SAGEM OSF infrared search and track system, installed in the nose of the aircraft. The optronic suite carries out search, target identification, telemetry and automatic target discrimination and tracking.
The communications suite on the Rafale uses the Saturn onboard V/UHF radio, which is a second-generation, anti-jam tactical UHF radio for Nato. Saturn provides voice encryption in fast-frequency hopping mode.
The aircraft is also equipped with fixed-frequency VHF/UHF radio for communications with civil air traffic control. A multifunction information distribution system (MIDS) terminal provides secure, high-data-rate tactical data exchange with NATO C2 stations, AWACS aircraft or naval ships.
Rafale is equipped with a Thales TLS 2000 navigation receiver, which is used for the approach phase of flight. The TLS 2000 integrates the instrument landing system (ILS), microwave landing system (MLS) and VHF omni-directional radio-ranger (VOR) and marker functions.
The radar altimeter is the AHV 17 altimeter from Thales, which is suitable for very low flight. The Rafale has a TACAN tactical air navigation receiver for en route navigation and as a landing aid.
The Rafale has an SB25A combined interrogator-transponder developed by Thales. The SB25A is the first IFF using electronic scanning technology.
The Rafale is powered by two M88-2 engines from SNECMA, each providing a thrust of 75kN. The aircraft is equipped for buddy-buddy refuelling with a flight refuelling hose reel and drogue pack.
The first M88 engine was delivered in 1996. It is a twin-shaft bypass turbofan engine principally suitable for low-altitude penetration and high-altitude interception missions.
The M88 incorporates the latest technologies such as single-piece bladed compressor disks (blisks), an on-polluting combustion chamber, single-crystal high-pressure turbine blades, powder metallurgy disks, ceramic coatings and composite materials.
The M88 engine comprises a three-stage LP compressor with inlet guide vane, an annular combustion chamber, single-stage cooled HP turbine, single-stage cooled LP turbine, radial A/B chamber, variable-section convergent flap-type nozzle and full authority digital engine control (FADEC).
Messier-Dowty provides the ‘jumper’ landing gear, designed to spring out when the aircraft is catapulted by the nose gear strut.
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