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Dassault Rafale
By Vineet Srivastava
Oct 26, 2003, 14:11

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The Rafale is France's next generation fighter and is designed to replace a wide range of aircraft from Super Etendards to Mirage 2000's. Dassault has in a single design satisfied the requirements of the both the Aeronavale and the Armee de L'air with this versatile multirole fighter. The Rafale should be in squadron service by the end of the decade. The Aeronavale has a total requirement of up to 60 aircraft while the Air force will buy 212-294 aircraft, most being two seaters. The early aircraft will be able to perform only air defence functions and will be known as F1 standard; the F2 standard aircraft will then be delivered and eventually all the aircraft will be brought to the F3 standard or full capability, the aircraft thus being constantly modified while in service.

(All photos Dassault Aviation via Vineet Srivastava unless otherwise stated)

History of Development

The Rafale was first unvieled at the St. Cloud plant, in 1985, test pilot Guy Mitaux Maurouard taking it up the first time in July 1986. Mach 2 was first reached on the 93rd flight, on 4th March 1987, at an altitude of 42,500 ft. The "to be" Naval Variant made practice approaches to the Clemenceau as far back as 1987. It demonstarted lower approach speeds than those of the Super Etendard.

The French govt later added a requirement of Stealth characteristics and this led to the some minor modifications of the airframe.

The first time that the Rafale flew with the RBE2 radar was in 1993 and other systems such as voice contols for non essential systems were being tested preliminarily as far back as 1982. It's powerplant, the M88-1, began initial bench running in 1984 and has been constantly modified since then.

Construction, Airframe and Performance

The Rafale C has a wingspan of 35 ft and 9 in(10.9 m) and a length of 50 ft 22 in(15.3 m). The wing area is 495 sq ft.
Composite materials account for upto a quarter of the Rafale's airframe. The wing has elevons along it's entire trailing edge and leading edge slats on the front which open at high angles of attack. Maximum speed is 2125 km/hr at 11000m(36,090 ft).

The range varies with fuel, load and type of mission and is said to be 1093 km on a low level penetration mission with 12 250 kg bombs, 4 Mica AAMs and 4300 litre of fuel in three auxilliary tanks. The endurance is even longer with a simple air to air load.

Above and bellow: two Aeronavale Rafales, as seen on an exercise in Belgium, in 2005. (Photos by Vincent Jacques)


The powerplant for the Rafale is the M88-2 manufactured by SNECMA. The M88-2 delivers 48.7 kN dry and 72.9 kN with the afterburner active. The M88 is much lighter and smaller than contemprary engines providing broadly equivlent thrust. Two new engines, the M88-3 and M88-4 are now believed to be in production and the M88-3 may be used on the F2 standard Rafales. The M88-3 and M88-4 are more powerful than the M88-2 and can provide upto 86 kN of thrust.


The Rafale mounts a technologically advanced RBE2 electronically scanned radar built by Thomson CSF. The RBE2(radar a bayalage electronique deux plans) will be Europe's first electronically scanned radar. This vastly increases beam agility and speeds up the data processors to upto 1 billion operations per second, this allows the Rafale to interleave functions like undertaking terrain following while simultaneously engaging air threats.

The radar is capable of terrain following, avoidance, threat avoidance, raid assesment, high resolution mapping,search track etc. The best range is around 100 kms. The following quote from H P Grolleau sums up the performance:
"The RBE-2 radar performs long-range detection and tracking of up to 40 air targets in look-down or look-up aspects, in all weathers, and in severe jamming environments. Interception and firing data are calculated for 8 priority targets which can be engaged with MICA EM at a rate of 1 every 2 seconds. With its electronic scanning antenna, the radar is fully capable of tracking the other 32 targets, while updating the MICAs with the dedicated, mid-course, secure, radar-to-misile link which enables very long range multiple firings with an exceptionally high probability kill rate, even against manoeuvring enemy fighters."

The Radar is supplemented by the OSF(Optronique Secteur Frontal) built again by Thomson CSF, it combines an infra red search and track system (IRST), forward looking infra red (FLIR) and laser range finder. Range under optimum conditions is around 80 kms,this is an important part of the Rafale's sensor suite and allows it to make those "stealthy" attacks.

The EW system is made up of the comprehensive and formidible SPECTRA (Systeme Pour la Protection Electronique Contre Tous les RAyonnements Adverses). It is an internal EW suite built by Dassault Electronique, Thomson CSF and Matra Defense, it consists of decoys, laser warning, electromagnetic detection, offensive and defensive jamming and the VOIR missile warning system.

The digital fly-by-wire flight control system (FCS) provides 3-axis stabilisation for the deliberately aerodynamically unstable and therefore high manoeuvrability aircraft. The system provides comfortable and natural piloting with coordinated turns, attitude hold, approach with drag and thrust ratio control, and catapult launch from aircraft carriers. The FCS also features very low level flight control and coupling flight and fire control. The fire control system operates in parallel on three digital channels with a single analogue channel back-up.


The cockpit has an ONOGS (On-Board Oxygen Generation System) and the pilot is seated in a Martin Baker Mk.16 ejection seat, at a semi-reclined angle of 29 degrees to provide optimum exemption from the g forces. Voice contol is available for non critical syatems and the main display is a CTH3022 HUD, there are also four more displays in the glass cockpit as well as a digital map generator. The cockpit is fully NVG compliant.

Essential information can also altenatively be projected onto the pilot's Hemlmet mounted sight.


The Rafale can carry virtually anything in the inventory of the Armee de l'Air from up to 8 MICA EM missiles to the R.550 Magic Mk.2, MICA IR, AS.30L, APACHE etc. The Rafale has 14 store stations and carries up to 6000 kg of munitions. Five of these points are "wet" optimised for carrying fuel tanks. It also mounts a DEFA791B 30mm cannon capable of firing 2500 rounds per minute

The Rafale Marine

The Aeronavale was the first to accept F1 standard Rafales capable of only air defence missions with capability being added whilst in service. The Rafale M is slightly is slightly heavier and has 13 weapon points as it loses one to the tailhook. The avionics is slightly different in that there are additional landing and alignment aides for carrier landings.

(Photo: Marine nationale)


Much like the EF2000,the Rafale may just not be worth it as it does not offer a huge advantage (if any at all) than the aircraft it was envisaged to defeat(advanced flanker derivatives), although it has stealth characteristics it's not as stealthy as the F22 and further loses out due to the fact that all the weapons are carried externally. To add to it's woes export orders are not forthcoming and the cost is too high - but the Rafale is badly needed by France(especially by the Aeronavale) and is more versatile and can be used in a wider range of roles than the EF2000 AND the flanker derivatives and can beat on paper all the unmodified Flankers which maybe in squadron service worldwide. This because the Su-35 and Su-37 are not in serial production and the most advanced Flanker derivative.

The SU-30MKI can only be made when French, British, Israeli, and Indian avionics and modifications are available, furthermore it is only in service with friendly countries which leaves the most advanced flanker which may potentially be hostile as the Su30MKK. The aircraft will replace more than five different types in France itself and may become worthwhile for those who do not already have a 4th/advanced 3rd generation fighter. The Naval Rafale with it's air-to-air payload and range can in theory combine the performance of the layered defence provided by the F-14 Tomcats and strike ability provided by the F-18 Hornet to the US Navy.

For additional details see also thread in the Section "Combat Aircraft" on ACIG.org forum.

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