Rafale - Variants
Directly derived from the slightly larger RAFALE A demonstrator, the three versions of the RAFALE retain all those qualities which have today been proven in flight : 750 kt, 9 g/-3.6 g, 32° maximum angle of attack, 115 kt approach speed, take off and landing in less than 400 meters. These qualities and performances stem from the "delta-canard" aerodynamic concept combining a delta wing and an active foreplane judiciously located in relation to the wing so as to optimize aerodynamic efficiency and stability control without impeding the pilot's visibility. Moreover, shapes and materials have been continuously selected to minimized the aircraft observability to both electro-magnetic and infra-red sensors.
- The Rafale C is a multirole fighter with a fully integrated weapons and navigation systems, making use of the latest technology and is capable of outstanding performance on multiple target air-to-air missions and air-to-surface missions deep behind enemy lines.
- The two-seater Rafale B retains most of the elements of the single-seater version, and its weapon and navigation system is exactly the same; the Rafale B can perform any operational mission with a lon pilot or with a crew consisting of two pilots or of one pilot and a weapons system operator.
- The Rafale M, a single-seater designed for seaborne use, carries the same weapon and navigation system. Its airframe has been designed for aircraft-carriers but retains most of the elements of the other versions.
The Air Force single-seat RAFALE C, the Air Force two-seat RAFALE B, and the naval single-seat RAFALE M feature maximum airframe and equipment commonality, and very similar mission capabilities. All three variants share a common airframe and a common mission system, the differences between naval and land versions being mainly limited to the undercarriage and to the arresting hook.
Rafale had been produced to three standards: the F1 for the French navy from mid-2004 — 10 aircraft plus 3 for the French air force later retrofitted to F3 standard — also called Tranche 1; F2 for the French air force and navy from mid-2006 — 48 aircraft since retrofitted to F3 standard — also called Tranche 2; and F3 for the French air force and navy since mid-2008 — 59 aircraft still in the process of delivery as of 2011 — also called Tranche 3; with 60 more to be delivered under Tranche 4 (described as F3+) with series production Thales RBE2/AA active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
Capabilities are developed incrementally, and released in packages (“standards”). The first release (standard F1) featured only air-to-air capabilities. It became operational in 2004 with the French Navy on RAFALEs launched from the “Charles de Gaulle” during operation "Enduring Freedom". The second capability release (standard F2) entered service in the French Air Force and in the French Navy in 2006. It provided the RAFALE with its true “OMNIROLE” capability for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
Standard F3 (now F3.2) is the current release. It has been qualified by the French MoD in 2008. It adds air reconnaissance with the AREOS recce pod, anti-ship with the AM39 EXOCET (implemented in RAFALE B, C, and M), and the nuclear capability with the ASMPA. The first RAFALE F3 was delivered to the French Air Force Operational Evaluation Centre (CEAM) in mid-2008 at Mont-de-Marsan AFB, in full accordance with the contracted delivery schedule.
Engineering work is already being done to further extend the air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities and the connectivity of the RAFALE well into the next decade. The ongoing effort will ensure more robust detection, tracking and identification of emerging air-to-air threats, and increase the RAFALE’s survivability with new low observable modes and with the latest advances in electronic warfare systems. Air-to-surface capabilities could benefit from assisted target recognition and enhanced sensor resolution, enabling the RAFALE to attack ever more elusive targets. New materials could extend the life of engine components. And the connectivity of the RAFALE will be further extended to keep it “plugged” into tomorrow’s integrated battlespace.
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