Air power unlimited
Designed For All Missions From Day One
The RAFALE has been designed from the onset of the programme to replace all types of aircraft in service with the French forces and to take over all their roles:
- air defence,
- air-to-ground and air-to-sea attack,
- nuclear deterrence,
- air reconnaissance,
The RAFALE is slated to become the sole type of combat aircraft operated by the French Air Force and the French Navy.
The RAFALE is a true Omnirole fighter: its multirole capability is significantly enhanced thanks to the simultaneous management of all the missions by the aircraft navigation and weapon system, together with the pilot’s multirole ability henceforth acting as a “battle manager”.
When the RAFALE programme was launched, the French Air Force and French Navy published a joint requirement for an Omnirole aircraft that would have to replace the seven types of combat aircraft then in operation.
The new aircraft would have to be able to carry out a very wide range of missions:
- Air-defence / air-superiority,
- Close air support,
- Air-to-ground precision strike / interdiction,
- Anti-ship attacks,
- Nuclear strikes,
These requirements were taken into account from the start of the RAFALE’s development, leading engineers to invent an Aircraft which goes beyond the needs of each type of mission.
Versatile and best in all categories of missions, the RAFALE is a true “Force Multiplier”.
The RAFALE has exhibited a remarkable survivability rate during the latest French air force and navy operations, thanks to an optimized airframe and to a wide range of smart and discrete sensors. It is slated to be the French armed forces prime combat Aircraft until 2040 at least.
A Fully Optimized Airframe
The RAFALE, a fully “OMNIROLE” fighter, is available in three variants:
- the RAFALE C single-seater operated from land bases,
- the RAFALE M single-seater for carrier operations,
- the RAFALE B two-seater operated from land bases.
All three variants share a common airframe and a common mission system, the differences between naval and land versions being mainly limited to the undercarriage and to the arresting hook.
The RAFALE is in production, with 110 Aircraft already delivered out of 180 ordered by the French MoD. By the end of 2012, 38 RAFALE B and 40 RAFALE C had been accepted by the French Air Force, 37 RAFALE M by the French Navy.
Four batches of 13, 48, 59 and 60 Aircraft have been ordered, totaling 132 Aircraft for the French Air Force (63Bs and 69Cs) and 48 Ms for the French Navy.
Capabilities are developed incrementally, and released in packages (“standards”). The first release (standard F1) featured only air-to-air capabilities. It became operational in 2004 with the French Navy on RAFALEs launched from the “Charles de Gaulle” during operation “Enduring Freedom”.
The second capability release (standard F2) entered service in the French Air Force and in the French Navy in 2006. It provided the RAFALE with its true “OMNIROLE” capability for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
Standard F3 (now F3.3) is the current release. It has been qualified by the French MoD in 2008. It adds air reconnaissance with the AREOS recce pod, anti-ship with the AM39 EXOCET (implemented in RAFALE B, C, and M), and the nuclear capability with the ASMPA. The first RAFALE F3 was delivered to the French Air Force Operational Evaluation Centre (CEAM) in mid-2008 at Mont-de-Marsan AFB, in full accordance with the contracted delivery schedule.
The French Air Force first operational RAFALE squadron, EC 1/7 “Provence”, has been stationed at Saint-Dizier air base since 2006. The second FAF fighter squadron equipped with RAFALE, EC 1/91 “Gascogne”, was officially re-created at St-Dizier in March 2009. In October 2010, it was followed by ETR 2/92 “Aquitaine”, a joint Air Force / Navy unit that will now handle all aircrew training. In November 2010, EC 3/30 “Lorraine” has been re-created at Al Dhafra air base, in the United Arab Emirates, with Al Dhafra becoming in effect a forward operating base for RAFALE fighters. With the rebirth of the EC 2/30 “Normandie-Niemen” at Mont-de-Marsan last june 2012, Rafale operates now also from the south-west of France in its fifth FAF operational squadron.
For the Navy, since september 2011 the flottille “11F” is the second one equipped with Rafale M.
The RAFALE has been subjected to thorough evaluations by several air forces with very positive results. It has been successfully involved in numerous multinational exercises: Red Flag, ATLC, Tiger Meet, Nato TLP, Garuda…
The RAFALE M is the only non-U.S. type of fighter cleared to operate from the decks of U.S. carriers, using their catapults and their arresting gear, as demonstrated in 2008 when six RAFALEs from flottille “12F” seamlessly integrated into the USS “Theodore Roosevelt” carrier air wing during JTFEX, a massive interoperability /graduation exercise organized by the U.S. Navy prior to an operational deployment. During this exercise, the RAFALE demonstrated full interoperability with U.S. and allied, air and naval units, as it was widely underlined by the U.S. Navy.
A Cutting Edge Mission System
The RAFALE is fitted with the most technologically advanced sensors:
- an active electronically scanned array radar (AESA),
- an electronic warfare integrated self-protection system (SPECTRA),
- a front sector optronic system (FSO),
- and a data link (Link 16 or national data link).
By way of an optimized data fusion, they provide the pilot with full and accurate tactical situation awareness.
What makes the essential difference is the RAFALE’s “multi-sensor data fusion” process running on data provided by all the sensors of the Aircraft, offering flexibility whatever the what-ifs or the tasks.
In essence, the “multi-sensor data fusion” concept implemented into the RAFALE allows the pilot to act as a true “tactical decision maker”, rather than being only a sensor operator.
The core of these enhanced capabilities of the RAFALE lies in a new “Modular Data Processing Unit” (MDPU) incorporating “commercial off the shelf” (COTS) elements. It is composed of up to 19 flight “line-replaceable units” (LRUs), with 18 of them individually providing 50 times the processing power of a typical mission computer employed in previous generation fighters.
The MDPU is the cornerstone of the upgradeability of the RAFALE. It allows a seamless integration of new weapons and new capabilities to maintain the warfighting relevance of the RAFALE over the years as tactical requirements evolve, and as the computer industry keeps rolling out new generations of processors and software.
The “multi-sensor data fusion” provides a link between the battlespace surrounding the Aircraft and the pilot’s brain with its unique ability to grasp the outcome of tactical situations and make sensible decisions.
It hinges on the computing power of the MDPU to process data from the RBE2-AESA radar, the “Front Sector Optronic” (FSO) system, the SPECTRA EW system, the IFF, the MICA infrared seekers, and the data link.
An Outstanding Stores Carriage Capability
With a full load of weapons and fuel, the RAFALE takes off at two and a half times its empty weight – more than any other fighter in its class can do.
Weapons and pods can be carried simultaneously with external fuel tanks, making both mission range and firing power available in all load-outs, plus bringing unrivalled flexibility in mission planning and execution.
The mission system of the RAFALE has the potential to integrate a variety of current and future armaments.
The RAFALE has been cleared to operate the following weapons:
- The MICA air-to-air “Beyond Visual Range” (BVR) interception, combat and self-defence missiles, in their IR (heat-seeking) and EM (active radar homing) versions. The MICA can be used within visual range (WVR) and beyond visual range (BVR).
- The AASM modular, rocket-boosted air-to-ground precision guided weapon series, fitted with INS/GPS or INS/GPS/IIR (imaging infra-red) guidance kits, or with the upcoming shortly INS/GPS/laser guidance kit.
- The SCALP long-range stand-off missile
- The AM39 EXOCET anti-ship missile
- Laser-guided bombs
- Unguided bombs
- The 2500 rds/min NEXTER 30M791 30 mm internal cannon, available on both single and dual seaters.
- The upcoming METEOR long-range air-to-air missile,
The RAFALE’s stores management system is Mil-Std-1760 compliant, which provides for easy integration of customer-selected weapons. With its 10-tonne empty weight, the RAFALE is fitted with 14 hard points (13 on the RAFALE M). Five of them are capable of drop tanks and heavy ordnance. Including a total available fuel load of 11.5 tons, total external load capacity is more than nine tons (20,000 lbs.).
“Buddy-buddy” refueling missions can be carried out in portions of the airspace out of reach of dedicated and vulnerable tanker Aircraft.
With its outstanding load-carrying capability and its advanced mission system, the RAFALE can carry out both ground strikes or recce tasks, as well as air-to-air attacks and interceptions during the same sortie.
It is capable of performing several actions at the same time, such as firing air-to-air missiles during a very low altitude-bad weather conditions penetration phase: a clear demonstration of the true “OMNIROLE” capability and outstanding survivability of the RAFALE.
The RAFALE has completed deployments to several operational theatres where it has demonstrated its value against fleeting targets in net-centric operations.
Rugged yet lethal, interoperable and effective, the RAFALE is easy to deploy with a small logistic footprint.
It has proved totally up to the job in projecting air power at long distance over vast expanses of land and sea, from austere forward bases in the heat and dust of the desert, or from the deck of a carrier stationed in warm and humid seas.
Since 2006, the French Air Force and Navy RAFALE fighters have been engaged in countless combat missions in Afghanistan where they have demonstrated a very high proficiency and a tangible military value. The AASM precision-guided modular air-to-surface armament, laser-guided bombs, and the 30 mm cannon have been successfully employed on many occasions, scoring direct hits with remarkable precision. More recently, the French Air Force and Navy RAFALE fighters have been engaged in the coalition operations over Libya. In the first day of Libya operations, RAFALE has demonstrated its multirole capabilities, it has covered on its own an all air combat spectrum, in particular :
- Defensive and offensive counter air missions,
- Reconnaissance missions,
- Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance (SCAR) missions,
- Long range strike,
- Destruction of enemy air defence (DEAD) missions.
Interoperable With All Major Forces
The RAFALE has demonstrated its interoperability with numerous assets in the air, on ground and at sea: command and control centers, tactical air controllers, airborne sensors and other fighters – both U.S. and non-U.S.
The mission system is totally adaptable to future and currently in-design data links, with flexibility in mind to serve the needs and the orientations set forth by the nation’s leadership.
The RAFALE is slated to become eventually the sole type of combat Aircraft operated by the French Air Force and French Navy. As a result, with the programme totally secured by a French government commitment for around 300 Aircraft, among which 180 are already on firm order, the RAFALE is in production and more than 110 Aircraft are now in service.
Participating in France deterrence scheme, everything that is necessary to maintain its combat relevance will be done.
Since October 2012, the RAFALE “OMNIROLE” fighters is delivered with the “Active Electronically Scanned Array” (AESA) RBE2 radar. They will also be fitted with a new missile launch detector and a “Front Sector Optronics” updated unit (FSO-IT), offering improved target detection and identification performance.
Meanwhile, engineering work is already being done to further extend the air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities and the connectivity of the RAFALE well into the next decade.
The ongoing effort will ensure more robust detection, tracking and identification of emerging air-to-air threats, and increase the RAFALE’s survivability with new low observable modes and with the latest advances in electronic warfare systems.
Air-to-surface capabilities could benefit from assisted target recognition and enhanced sensor resolution, enabling the RAFALE to attack ever more elusive targets.
New materials could now extend the life of engine components and the connectivity of the RAFALE will be further extended to keep it “plugged” into tomorrow’s integrated battlespace.
Affordable Air Power
The RAFALE is the right-sized twin-engine fighter which reconciles mission effectiveness with affordability.
With its controlled operating costs, it is the right solution to achieve uncompromised air superiority within the limits of today’s constrained defence budgets.
The demonstrated mission effectiveness of the RAFALE enables modern air forces to carry out all their missions in today’s format: two Omnirole RAFALE can do the strike, escort and post-strike assessment work of five legacy fighters.
Thanks to its outstanding reliability, the RAFALE has lower maintenance costs. For all its service life, the RAFALE does not have to leave its operational base for maintenance purposes.
It does away with costly and time-consuming airframe and engine depot level inspections required on other types of fighter Aircraft, with “shop replaceable units” (SRUs) the only items to be shipped for maintenance/repair.
A case in point is the modular M88 engine, made up of 21 modules: all maintenance and repair can be done by returning nothing more than modules or discrete parts to the depot or to the manufacturer. No balancing procedure and no run-up check are necessary before returning the engine to service.
Failure-prone systems have been eliminated early on in the design process:
- there is no airbrake
- the air intakes have no moving parts
- the ac generators do not have any constant speed drive (CSD)
- and the refueling probe is fixed in order to avoid any deployment or retraction problem.
This results in reduced spares inventory and less ground support equipment.
Another source of reduction of the required spares inventory comes from the constant standardisation approach during the design phase,
- The same part number is used at various locations on the airframe: this is made possible with precision airframe manufacturing which allows to suppress fitting and boresighting operations when installing airframe components.
- Left-hand and right-hand parts are identical wherever applicable (i.e. foreplanes, FCS actuators).
- Miscellaneous parts such as screws and electronic modules have also been included into the standardisation effort.
The required spares inventory is further reduced by adapting the troubleshooting procedures to allow the exchange of electronic circuit boards within “line replaceable units” (LRUs), rather than exchanging the LRUs: this applies to the RBE2 radar, the SPECTRA EW suite, the MDPU mission computer and to other equipment as well.
Special attention has been paid to accessibility issues: for instance, the side-opening canopy facilitates
the replacement of the ejection seat, so that two technicians can perform its removal in 10 minutes only.
No heavy test equipment is needed around the RAFALE on the flight line: All checks at this level can be run by maintenance technicians on the Aircraft itself.
No test bench is needed for the M88 engine, a remarkable first in fighter Aircraft maintenance.
Based on significant experience in corrosion protection for carrier-based Aircraft (Super-Etendard) and maritime patrol Aircraft (ATL 1/ATL 2), DASSAULT AVIATION has developed new advanced corrosion protection processes which help drive down the cost of maintenance of the RAFALE: corrosion issues discovered during maintenance being the perfect “show stopper” which exceeds spending targets and delays the return of Aircraft to service in the most unpredictable way.