Dassault Rafale

Rafale B01 was the two-seat prototype, which completed its initial flight in April 1993. B01 was the first Rafale to fly with the RBE2 multi-mode radar, housed within a recontoured nose

An early Rafale M of the French Navy. The Rafale is the only non-U.S. fighter cleared to operate from the decks of U.S. carriers, using their catapults and their arresting gear.

The AASM (Armement Air-Sol Modulaire, Air-to-Surface modular weapon) is a low-cost, all-weather ‘fire-and-forget’ weapon. Intended to attack targets at long ranges, the AASM is also known as ‘Hammer’. The AASM is powered and can engage targets at high off-boresight angles. Using the AASM, the Rafale does not have to overfly a target to carry out its attack, and can remain safely out of reach. Depending on the target, the aircrew will choose vertical or horizontal impact to cause maximum damage. For long-range engagements, the AASM is equipped with a bolt-on tail unit/range-extension kit that combines a solid rocket motor with flip-out wings. Range exceeds 50km (31 miles) for a high-altitude release, reduced to 15km (9 miles) with a low-level firing. Up to six AASMs can be carried by a single Rafale (underwing, as seen here), and up to six widely separated targets can be destroyed in a single pass.

Described by the manufacturer as an ‘omni-role’ fighter, the Rafale has excelled in action with both the French Air Force and Navy and its undoubted capabilities across the combat spectrum have attracted interest on the export market.

The Rafale traces its origins back to the Avion de Combat Experimentale (ACX) programme that was designed by Dassault in the early 1980s before France’s withdrawal from the multinational European Fighter Aircraft (EFA) project in 1985. One of the reasons behind the French leaving the programme was the requirement for a smaller and lighter combat aircraft that could operate from aircraft carriers.

The ACX originally took the form of a technology demonstrator and was first flown in July 1986. The ACX, renamed Rafale A, established the primary design features of the production Rafale, including the basic aerodynamic configuration, fly-by-wire control system and structure that made extensive use of composites. In its initial form, the Rafale A demonstrator was powered by a pair of 68.6kN (15,422lb) thrust General Electric F404-GE-400 turbofans. After initial flight tests, including carrier touch-and-gos, had been completed with this powerplant, an example of the planned SNECMA M88-2 turbofan was substituted for one of the F404s.

Experience with the Rafale A led to the Rafale C, initially known as the Avion de Combat Tactique (ACT), which first flew in May 1991. A single prototype was completed for the French Air Force’s single-seat Rafale C model and it was followed by the first example of the Air Force’s two-seat Rafale B, flown in April 1993. In its basic form, the production Rafale includes the RBE2 multi-mode radar that incorporates a passive electronically scanned array (PESA), and a Spectra defensive aids package.

The French Navy’s requirement for an Avion de Combat Marine (ACM) led to development of a carrier-based Rafale M that was first flown in December 1991. Compared to the land-based aircraft this version is somewhat heavier, due to its reinforced undercarriage, and provision for catapult take-off and arrested landing.

The Rafale has been delivered equipped to progressively more advanced Standards. The initial production aircraft, delivered from December 1998, were of the F1 Standard. This was optimized for the air-to-air role and became operational in 2004 with French Navy Rafales that launched from the carrier Charles de Gaulle during Operation Enduring Freedom. First of the ‘omni-role’ Standards, the F2 entered service with the French Air Force and Navy in 2006, the aircraft now able to conduct both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

The definitive F3 Standard has the capability to use a further improved RBE2 radar, adding an active electronically scanned array (AESA). The F3 is also equipped with Damoclès laser designation pod and the Pod Reco NG (Pod de Reconnaissance de Nouvelle Génération, or new-generation recce pod). The latter store is capable of providing extremely sharp images at stand-off distances, and all recorded data can be transmitted back to base in real time. F3 adds an anti-ship capability with the AM.39 Exocet missile, buddy-buddy refuelling and a nuclear capability with the ASMP-A cruise missile. A conventional stand-off attack capability is enabled by the SCALP EG cruise missile. This latest Standard was qualified by the French Defence Ministry in 2008.

The French Defence Ministry has ordered 180 Rafales, for a total of 132 aircraft for the French Air Force (63 Rafale Bs and 69 Rafale Cs) and 48 Rafale Ms for the French Navy. India has a requirement for at least 126 Rafales having selected the fighter as winner of its competition to find a new Multi-Role Medium Combat Aircraft (MMRCA).

The French Navy’s Flottille 12F converted to the Rafale at Landivisiau, officially re-forming on the Standard F1 in June 2001. The first operational French Air Force Rafale unit was Escadron de Chasse (EC) 1/7 ‘Provence’, stationed at Saint-Dizier air base in northwest France since 2006.

The Rafale went into combat over Afghanistan in 2006, and in 2011 French Air Force and French Navy aircraft engaged in coalition operations over Libya, conducting air superiority, precision strike, deep strike and intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) and strike coordination and reconnaissance (SCAR). More recently, French Air Force Rafales have taken a leading role in Mali, helping destroy enemy infrastructure and support friendly troops in contact. The Rafale has also been active against Islamic insurgents in Iraq, flying from its forward base at Al Dhafra in the United Arab Emirates.


Rafale A

    Technology demonstrator, first flew in 1986.

Rafale D

    Dassault used this designation (D for discrète) in the early 1990s to emphasise the new semi-stealthy design features.

Rafale B F3-R

    Two-seater version for the French Air Force.[37] “It can operate with the Talios targeting pod (45 ordered by the French Air Force will delivered between 2019 and 2023).”

Rafale C F3-R

    Same as Rafale B F3-R but Single-seat version for the French Air Force.

Rafale M F3-R

    Same as Rafale C F3-R but Carrier-borne version for the French Naval Aviation, which entered service in 2001. For carrier operations, the M model has a strengthened airframe, longer nose gear leg to provide a more nose-up attitude, larger tailhook between the engines, and a built-in boarding ladder. Consequently, the Rafale M weighs about 500 kg (1,100 lb) more than the Rafale C. It is the only non-US fighter type cleared to operate from the decks of US carriers, using catapults and their arresting gear, as demonstrated in 2008 when six Rafales from Flottille 12F integrated into the USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Air Wing interoperability exercise.

Rafale N

    Originally called the Rafale BM, was a planned missile-only two-seater version for the Aéronavale. Budgetary and technical constraints have been cited as grounds for its cancellation.

Rafale R

    Proposed reconnaissance-oriented variant.

Rafale DM

    Two-seater version for the Egyptian Air Force.

Rafale EM

    Single-seat version for the Egyptian Air Force.

Rafale DH

    Two-seater version for the Indian Air Force.

Rafale EH

    Single-seat version for the Indian Air Force.

Rafale B, C, M F4 (first step 4.1, second step 4.2)

    It will upgrade radar (F4.1), as well as improved capabilities in the Helmet-Mounted Display and AASM 1000 kg, OSF (long range optoelectronics system) will be receive an IRST( Infrared Search and Track ) for detecting and identifying airborne stealth targets at long range (F4.1), it will be more effective in network-centric warfare, more data exchange and satellite communication and will launch small (F4.2) . It as be ordered in 2019.:All 180 French Rafale B,C,M will be upgraded to F4.1 in 2022 and F4.2 in 2027, moreover a further 30 aircraft at the full F4 standard (F4.2) will be ordered in 2023 and delivered between 2027 and 2030.