Dassault Aviation Sets Out Ambitious Rafale F4 Upgrade Path

Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, received the F4-standard development contract for the Rafale combat aircraft during the visit of the Dassault Aviation Mérignac plant by Florence Parly, French Minister of the Armed Forces

Dassault Aviation

The French government has signed a US $2.3 billion contract with Dassault Aviation to develop the Rafale’s F4 standard, which is expected to be validated by 2024, although some functions will be ready by 2022.

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With the first Rafale F3R-standard Rafales now entering service, the French Air Force and French Navy set out a roadmap Rafale F4 that should take the platform out to about 2070.

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The Rafale is the only “omnirole” aircraft in the world, able to operate from a land base or an aircraft carrier, capable of carrying 1.5 times its weight in weapons and fuel, the Rafale has been designed to perform the full spectrum of combat aircraft missions:

  • Interception and air-to-air combat using a 30-mm gun, Mica IR/EM missiles and Meteor missiles.
  • Close air support using a 30-mm gun, GBU laser-guided bombs and AASM GPS-guided bombs.
  • Deep strike using Scalp-Storm Shadow cruise missiles.
  • Maritime strike using the Exocet AM39 Block 2 missile and other air-to-surface weapons.
  • Real-time tactical and strategic reconnaissance using the Areos pod.
  • Buddy-buddy in-flight refueling
  • Nuclear deterrence using the ASMP-A missile.

Speaking at the IQPC International Fighter conference in Berlin, Major General Frederic Parisot, Deputy Chief of Staff, Plans and Programmes, French Air Force, said that there will likely be a further four upgrade phases for the platform beyond the latest F3R configuration currently being rolled out, and that it is the country’s plan for the Rafale to serve as the force-multiplier alongside the New Generation Fighter (NFG) currently being developed with Germany and Spain as part of the wider Future Combat Air System (FCAS)/Système de Combat Aérien Futur (SCAF).

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The Rafale’s current F3R configuration features major software and hardware upgrades that include the integration of the MBDA Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) and the latest laser-guided version of the Sagem Armement Air-Sol Modulaire (AASM) modular air-to-ground precision weapon; the Thales RBE2 active electronic scanned array (AESA) radar; the Thales TALIOS long-range airborne targeting pod; and automatic ground collision avoidance system (Auto-GCAS); an improved buddy-buddy refuelling pod; as well as the Spectra electronic warfare system.

The F4 standard marks a new step coming in the wake of the standards F1 (specific to the first aircraft of the French Navy), F2 (air-to-ground and air-to-air capabilities), F3 and F3R (extended versatility).

The F4 standard plans to operate between 2023 and 2030, and it adds enhancements to the Thales RBE2 active electronic scanned array (AESA) radar, the TALIOS pod, and the Reco NG reconnaissance pod; upgrades to the aircraft’s communications suite; improved pilot helmet-mounted displays; a new engine control unit; and the ability to carry new weaponry such as the Mica Next-Generation (NG) air-to-air missile and 1,000 kg ASM air-to-ground modular weapon — and be able to carry the new Scalp missiles. Further to the software and hardware improvements, the F4 upgrade will include a satellite antenna, as well as a new prognosis and diagnostic aid system designed to introduce predictive maintenance capabilities. It will also be equipped with the Talios multifunction optronic pod made by Thales.

The Rafale entered service with the French Navy in 2004 and with the French Air Force in 2006, gradually replacing the seven types of previous-generation combat aircraft. It has proven itself in external operations in various theatres: Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, Iraq and Syria. Of the 180 aircraft ordered by France to date, 152 have been delivered. The Rafale fleet currently totals almost 270,000 flight hours, including 40,000 in operations. A total of 96 Rafale aircraft have been ordered by Egypt, Qatar and India.

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