Rafale - Sensors
With the advent of “Tranche 4”, aircraft which entered service from 2013, the RAFALE fighters will be fitted with an “Active Electronically Scanned Array” (AESA) RBE2 radar. In those situations where discretion becomes the single most important tactical factor, the RAFALE can rely on several other silent sensor systems. the “multi-sensor data fusion” concept implemented into the RAFALE allows the pilot to act as a true “tactical decision maker”, rather than being only a sensor operator.
The core of the enhanced capabilities of the RAFALE lies in a new “Modular Data Processing Unit” (MDPU) incorporating “commercial off the shelf” (COTS) elements. It is composed of up to 19 flight “line-replaceable units” (LRUs), with 18 of them individually providing 50 times the processing power of a typical mission computer employed in previous generation fighters. For short-term actions, head-up flying using a wide-field-of-view holographic “Head-up Display” (HUD), For medium and long-term actions, analysis of the tactical situation as a whole (the "big picture"), using a multi-image “Head-Level Display” (HLD). The HLD picture is focused at the same distance as the HUD picture to allow for fast eye transitions between head-up and head-down displays and the external world's view,
RBE2 / AESA - “Active Electronically Scanned Array” (AESA) radar
The RAFALE was the first operational combat aircraft to use an electronic scanning radar. Developed by THALES, the RBE2 radar has benefited from a massive research effort and from THALES’ unmatched know-how based on past experience. Compared to radars with conventional antennas, unprecedented levels of situational awareness are attained with earlier detection and tracking of multiple targets. With its superior beam agility and its enormous computing power, the RBE2 offers outstanding performance that cannot be replicated by mechanical scanning radars.
With the advent of “Tranche 4”, aircraft which entered service from 2013, the RAFALE fighters will be fitted with an “Active Electronically Scanned Array” (AESA) RBE2 radar which will provide a wide range of functions:
- All-aspect look-up and look-down detection and tracking of multiple air targets for close combat and long-range interception, in all weather and in jammed environment,
- Ability to track targets in, or out of, the search domain, bringing the ultimate advantage in air combat,
- Real time generation of three-dimensional maps for terrain-following above uncharted terrain in blind conditions. The RAFALE is the sole combat aircraft to currently propose such a function,
- Real time generation of high resolution 2D ground maps for navigation updates and detection, identification and designation of ground targets,
- Detection and tracking of multiple naval targets.
The RBE2-AESA is fully compatible in terms of detection range with the upcoming long range METEOR air-to-air missile. The new AESA radar technology offers many operational advantages: increased detection and tracking ranges, enlarged surveillance coverage in azimuth, and significantly ameliorated reliability thanks to the introduction of the new redundant transmit/receive modules. This new RBE2 variant were fully compatible in terms of detection range with the future extreme long range METEOR air-to-air missile.
Front Sector Optronics - FSO
Developed by THALES, the “Front Sector Optronics” (FSO) system is fully integrated into the aircraft. Operating in the optronic wavelengths, it is immune to radar jamming and it provides covert long-range detection and identification, high resolution multi-target angular tracking and laser range-finding for air, sea and ground targets. With its narrow field, the visible waveband capability is truly valuable to identify targets in situations where visual contact is required by the rules of engagement.
SPECTRA - internal Electronic Warfare suite
Jointly developed by THALES and MBDA, the SPECTRA internal “Electronic Warfare” (EW) system is the cornerstone of the RAFALE’s outstanding survivability against the latest airborne and ground threats. It is fully integrated with other systems in the aircraft, and it provides a multi-spectral threat warning capability against hostile radars, missiles and lasers. The SPECTRA system carries out reliable long-range detection, identification and localisation of threats, allowing the pilot to instantly select the most effective defensive measures based on combinations of radar jamming, infrared or radar decoying and evasive maneuvers.
The angular localisation performance of the SPECTRA sensors makes it possible to accurately locate ground threats in order to avoid them, or to target them for destruction with precision guided munitions. The outstanding capability of SPECTRA regarding airborne threat localisation, is one of the keys of the RAFALE’s superior situational awareness. Also instrumental in SPECTRA's performance is a threat library that can be easily defined, integrated and updated on short notice by users in their own country, and in full autonomy.
DAMOCLES - Laser designation pod
The DAMOCLES laser designator pod designed by THALES, brings full day and night laser designation capability to the RAFALE, with metric precision. It permits laser-guided weapons to be delivered at stand-off range and altitude. The IR sensor of the DAMOCLES pod operates in the mid-wave infrared band, allowing it to retain its effectiveness in warm and / or humid conditions DAMOCLES is interoperable with all existing laser-guided weapons.
AREOS - Recce pod - with real-time transmission
For both strategic and tactical reconnaissance missions, the French Armed Forces have adopted the new generation THALES AREOS reconnaissance system for the RAFALE. This high-tech, day and night equipment can be used in a wide range of scenarios, from stand-off distance at high altitude down to high speed and extremely low-level. To shorten the intelligence gathering cycle and accelerate the tempo of operations, the AREOS pod is fitted with a data link which allows high resolution images to be transmitted back to military decision makers in real time. The outstanding performance of AREOS in stand-off reconnaissance makes it a sensor with a true pre-strategic value.
New Generation Reconnaissance Pod (NG Recce Pod
Rafale has successfully flown with a New Generation Reconnaissance Pod (NG Recce Pod), a new configuration which is representative of the Standard F3 fighter. The NG Recce Pod significantly boosted the capabilities of reconnaissance units. It was fielded by Rafale units from 2007, and progressively supplanted Mirage F1CR and Super Etendard reconnaissance aircraft in service with the French Air Force and Navy. The NG Recce Pod has been flown at Mach 0.9 / 580 knots IAS with two 2,000 litre external fuel tanks and four Mica missiles. Supersonic speeds have been demonstrated too, the fighter reaching Mach 1.4 with the NG Recce Pod on the centreline pylon and two Mica air-to-air missiles at the wingtips. It has been determined that the NG Recce Pod has negligible impact on aircraft handling.
The net-centric capability of the RAFALE hinges on its open architecture, its data fusion software and its compatibility with a variety of data links, which “plug” the RAFALE into the integrated battlespace. A secure high-rate data link is provided to share data in combined air operations in real time with other aircraft in the formation, airborne and surface command and control centres, tactical air controllers or other friendly assets. The Link 16 data link is also available to those customers cleared to operate it.
As a net-centric capable asset, the RAFALE can exchange images. The Rover (“Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver”) is an element of this capability which allows aircrews and forward air controllers on the ground to share videos or images of the target. It helps prevent blue-on-blue incidents and collateral damage, a decisive advantage in peacekeeping operations. The RAFALE’s interoperability, as part of a multinational operation, has been demonstrated on countless occasions, and Link 16 as well as non-NATO solutions can be provided to meet various customers' requirements.
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