[Aviation/ Defence News]
Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, received the F4-standard development contract for the Rafale combat aircraft on 14 January 2019 during the visit of the Dassault Aviation Mérignac plant by Florence Parly, French Minister of the Armed Forces.
The only totally “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.
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.
The F4 standard is part of the ongoing process to continuously improve the Rafale in line with technological progress and operating experience feedback. 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).
In Dassault Aviation’s role as industrial architect, the company is responsible for implementing innovative connectivity solutions to optimize the effectiveness of their aircraft in networked combat (new satellite and intra-patrol links, communication server, software defined radio).
New functions will also be developed to improve the aircraft’s capabilities (upgrades to the radar sensors and front sector optronics, helmet-mounted display capabilities), and new weapons will be integrated (Mica NG air-to-air missile and 1,000-kg AASM Air-to-Ground Modular Weapon).
Dassault Aviation is also working under a through-life support contract which will become more “top-down” under the authority of the aircraft manufacturer. F4 will include a new Prognosis and Diagnostic Aid System introducing predictive maintenance capabilities. Other maintenance optimization features are scheduled, particularly with solutions based on Big Data and artificial intelligence. Lastly, the Rafale will be equipped with a new engine control unit.
“The F4 standard guarantees that Rafale will remain at world-class level so that our combat air forces can carry out all their missions with optimum efficiency, whether in coalition operations or completely independently, as required by the French nuclear deterrent, stated Eric Trappier. This new standard also guarantees that Rafale will remain a credible reference on the export market. Lastly, it confirms the continuous improvement approach and helps develop the manufacturers’ skills.”
Validation of the F4 standard is planned for 2024, with some functions becoming available as of 2022.
Photo credit: Dassault Aviation