Dassault Rafale

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Dassault Rafale

Missing image
Rafale_low_over_desert.jpg
Dassault Rafale


Dassault Rafale

Description
RoleMulti-role fighter aircraft
Crew1 or 2
First Flight1986 (demonstrator)
Entered Service2002
ManufacturerDassault Aviation
Dimensions
Length15.30 m50 ft 2 in
Wingspan10.90 m35 ft 9 in
Height5.34 m17 ft 6 in
Wing area46 m²ft²
Weights
Empty9,060 kg19,975 lb
Loaded14,710 kg32,430 lb
Maximum takeoff19,500 kg42,990 lb
Powerplant
Engines2 × Snecma M88-3 (series)
Thrustn/d kN (mil.)
87,68 kN (aft.)
Performance
Maximum speed2125 km/h1321 mph
Combat range1850 km1150 miles
Ferry rangekmmiles
Service ceiling16,750 m55,000 ft
Rate of climbm/minft/min
Wing loading320 kg/m²65.6 lb/ft²
Thrust/Weight1.94
Avionics
AvionicsThales RBE2 radar
Thales Spectra aircraft survival system
Thales/SAGEM OSF infrared search and track system
Armament
Guns1 30 mm GIAT 30/719B cannon
BombsConventional bombs
Missiles8 AAMs - MICA, AIM-9 Sidewinder, AIM-132 ASRAAM, AIM-120 AMRAAM
air-to-ground weapons inc. MBDA Apache, MBDA Meteor, SCALP EG,
ASMP nuclear missile

The Rafale is a French twin-engine delta-wing multirole fighter aircraft designed and built by Dassault Aviation. It is being produced both for land-based use with the French Air Force and for carrier-based naval operation with the French Navy. The aircraft has undergone a protracted development, for mostly political and economic rather than technical reasons; the first demonstrator flight was in 1986 but the first production aircraft entered service only in 2002. No foreign sales have yet transpired.
The Rafale carries, for the first time in aviation history, an integrated electronic survival system named SPECTRA which features a software-based virtual stealth technology.

Contents

History

In the early 1980s, both the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air) and Navy (Aéronavale) had a requirement (the Navy's being rather more pressing) to find a new generation of fighter, and their requirements were similar enough to be merged into one project. This requirement was initially to be met by the Future European Fighter Aircraft (F/EFA) involving Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Differences soon emerged in the project, carrier capability was specific to France only and while France wanted an offensive ground-attack aircraft with secondary air-to-air role the other nations had air-to-air as their primary mission. Dassault was authorised to work on a technology demonstrator in 1983 named the Rafale ("Burst"). The final divergence came in 1985, following French demands for far ranging control of the F/EFA project, including all senior roles within the joint company. France announced its intention to leave the project and committed to the national Rafale. Its former partners continued their collaboration on what was to become the Eurofighter Typhoon.

This Rafale A was rolled out in late 1985 and flying in mid 1986. The SNECMA M88 engines being developed were nowhere near ready, so the demonstrator flew with General Electric F404-GE-400 afterburning turbofans as used on the F/A-18 Hornet. The demonstrator impressed the French Ministry of Defence enough to place production orders in 1988. Further testing continued, including carrier touch-and-go landings and test-flying early M88 engines, before the Rafale A was retired in 1994.

Three versions of Rafale were in the initial production order:

  • Rafale C (Chasseur) Single-seat fighter for the Armée de l'Air
  • Rafale B (Biplace) Two-seat fighter for the AdA
  • Rafale M (Marine) Single-seat carrier fighter for the Aéronavale

The prototype Rafale C flew in 1991, the first of two Rafale M prototypes flew later that year, the prototype Rafale B flew in early 1993 and the second Rafale M prototype flew later that year. Catapult trials were initially carried out at NAS Lakehurst in New Jersey, USA, France having no land-based catapult test facility.

Initially the Rafale B was to be just a trainer, but Gulf War and Kosovo experience showed that a second crewmember is invaluable on strike and reconnaissance missions, and therefore more Rafale Bs were ordered, replacing some Rafale Cs. A similar decision was made by the Navy, who initially did not have a two-seat aircraft on order; this was at first called the Rafale BM but soon became the Rafale N.

Political and economic uncertainty meant that it was not until 1999 that a production Rafale M flew. The marine version has priority since the aircraft it is replacing are much older, especially the Vought F-8 Crusader fighter which is a 50 year old design. Service deliveries began in 2001 and the first squadron became fully operational on the Charles de Gaulle in 2002.

Variants

Rafale A

This was a technology demonstrator that first flew in 1986, as described above. It has now been retired.

Rafale D

Dassault used this designation (D for discret or stealthy) in the early 1990s for the production versions for the Armée de l'Air, to emphasize the new semi-stealthy features they had added to the design.

Rafale B

This is the 2-seater version for the Armée de l'Air; to enter service in 2004.

Rafale C

This is the single-seat version for the Armée de l'Air; was delivered in June 2004.

Rafale M

Missing image
HUD-rafale.jpg
A Rafale fighter of the FS Charles de Gaulle, seen through the HUD of another Rafale. Speed is 323 knots, bearing 340. The Rafale in bearing one Magic missile, two MBDA MICA, and two external tanks.

This is the carrier-borne version for the Aéronavale, which entered service in 2001. Very similar to the Rafale C in appearance, the M differs by:

  • Strengthened to withstand the rigors of carrier-based aviation
  • Stronger landing gear
  • Longer nose gear leg to provide a more nose-up attitude for catapult launches
  • Deleted front center pylon (to give space for the longer gear)
  • Large stinger-type arresting hook between the engines
  • Built-in power operated boarding ladder
  • Carrier microwave landing system
  • "Telemir" inertial reference platform that can receive updates from the carrier systems.

The Rafale M weighs about 500 kg (1,100 lb) more than the Rafale C. Unusually for a carrier-based plane, it does not have folding wings. This was to save money by increasing commonality with the land-based Rafales.

The initial deliveries have been F1 (Fase 1 - Phase 1) aircraft, capable of only air-to-air combat with no air-to-ground capability, to replace the ageing F-8 Crusader in the carrier-based fighter role. Additional deliveries of F2 air-to-ground capable aircraft will replace the Dassault Super Etendard in the attack role and the Dassault Etendard IVP in the reconnaissance role, leaving the Rafale M and Rafale N as the only armed fixed-wing aircraft flown by the Aéronavale. F3 aircraft will have terrain-following 3D radar and nuclear capability.

Rafale N

The Rafale N, originally called the Rafale BM, is a 2-seater version for the Aéronavale. Originally the Aéronavale did not plan to acquire any 2-seaters for combat purposes, but experience in the Gulf and Kosovo taught the usefulness of a second crewmember.

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