The Rafale (Squall) program is composed of three versions of multi-purpose twin-engine combat aircraft -- the single-seater air version Rafale C, two-seater air version Rafale B and single-seater navy version Rafale M. These three versions are fitted with the same engine, the same navigation and attack system, the aircraft management system and the flight control system. They are all able to perform all types of missions from ground attack to air superiority.
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 program totally secured by a French government commitment for around 300 aircraft, the RAFALE is in production and more than 100 aircraft are now in service. The first production aircraft Rafale B1 flew for the first time 04 December 1998 and was delivered to the French Air Force. By the end of 2010, 38 RAFALE B and 24 RAFALE C had been accepted by the French Air Force, and 31 RAFALE M by the French Navy. Four batches of 13, 48, 59 and 60 aircraft have been ordered, totalling 132 aircraft for the French Air Force (63 Bs and 69Cs) and 48 Ms for the French Navy.
As of 1995 a planned total of 336 Rafales (250 Rafale ACTs for the air force and 86 Rafale ACMs for the navy), were to be built at a planned procurement rate of 16 aircraft a year. Firm orders by the French Government totalled 61 aircraft to be delivered from 1998 to 2005. The total program for France, Air Force and Navy, was set at 294 aircraft, subsequently reduced to 286 aircraft, including up to 60 Rafale M for the Navy. By 2011 the aircraft’s production order stood at 190 for the French air force (71 Rafale Cs and 79 Rafale Bs) and navy (40 Rafale Ms) combined. Production of the Rafale for the French forces was secure until 2019 and was expected to last until 2025.
When the RAFALE program was launched, the Armée de l'Air and the Marine Nationale (the French Air Force and the French Navy) published a joint requirement for a balanced multirole aircraft that would be able to replace seven types of combat aircraft then in use.
The new aircraft would have to be able to carry out an extremely wide range of missions:
- Air-defence / air-superiority,
- Close air support,
- Precision strike / interdiction with conventional weapons (air-to-ground and anti-ship attacks),
- Nuclear strikes.
These needs were taken into account from the start of the RAFALE's development; thus it enabled the engineers, using all the new technologies, to conceive an aircraft which goes beyond the objectives of each mission. The RAFALE has exhibited a remarkable rate of survivability during the latest main French Air Force and Navy operations thanks to an optimized airframe and a wide range of smart and discrete sensors. It is slated to be the French armed forces' combat aircraft until 2040, at least.
Since 2006, the French Air Force and Navy RAFALE fighters have been engaged in countless combat missions in Afghanistan where they demonstrated a very high availability rate. In the theatre, they have fired their weapons (250 kg laser-guided bombs and 30 mm guns) on numerous occasions. In early 2008, the AASM precision-guided, modular, air-to-surface armament was successfully utilised for the first time, scoring direct hits with remarkable precision.
The RAFALE regularly carries out “Quick Reaction Alert” (QRA) / air-defence / air sovereignty missions, power projection and deployments for external missions, deep strike missions, air support for ground forces, reconnaissance missions, pilot training sorties and nuclear deterrence duties.
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.
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…. The RAFALE M is the only non-US type of fighter cleared to operate from the decks of US 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 organised by the US Navy prior to an operational deployment. During this exercise, the RAFALE demonstrated full interoperability with US and allied, air and naval units, as it was widely underlined by the US Navy.
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.
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