Friday, January 30, 2009
In 2008, the Rafale was qualified in its full omnirole version (Standard F3) and fulfilled the claim that it is a truly omnirole fighter, an aircraft capable of conducting in the same time both air-to-air and air-to-surface tasks during the mission.
Already an extremely effective new-generation multi-role tactical fighter, development work is continuing apace to exploit more and more of the aircraft’s capabilities, and to add new ones (sensors, weapons). As a result, the Rafale looks set to become even better in the near future.
In 2008, the combat proven Rafale was again engaged overseas, achieving another successful front-line deployment in Afghanistan and demonstrating its capabilities, as well as its full interoperability, when involved in several international exercises, including two major ones in the United States.
Overall, the year 2008 was, for the Rafale, a genuine success story and this outstanding fighter aircraft strengthened its formidable reputation among those who have encountered it.
On July 1, 2008, the French defense procurement agency (Délégation Générale pour l’Armement, DGA) qualified the full omnirole version of the Rafale combat aircraft, called “Standard F3”. The first aircraft produced in Standard F3 (Rafale F3) will be delivered to the French forces from the beginning of 2009 onwards. The aircraft previously produced and delivered will be upgraded to the Standard F3 configuration.
The Standard F2 (Rafale F2), currently in service with the French Air Force (since June 2006) and with the French Navy (since May 2008), already performs air defense missions (with MICA RF/IR air-to-air missiles) and air-to-ground missions (with the SCALP-EG cruise missile, the AASM precision strike weapon, and the GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bomb).
The Standard F3 (Rafale F3) adds new capabilities: anti-ship attack (with the AM 39 Exocet missile) and airborne reconnaissance (with the RECO-NG reconnaissance pod), as well as nuclear deterrence (with the ASMP-A missile).
Improving the operational availability and lowering the Life-Cycle Cost
Late 2008, the Integrated Maintenance Organization for French MoD Aircraft (Structure Intégrée du Maintien en condition opérationnelle des Matériels Aéronautiques du ministère de la Défense, SIMMAD) awarded to Dassault Aviation a 10-year contract to provide maintenance for all of the equipment within the company’s work scope for the 120 Rafale aircraft ordered - to date - by the French Air Force and Navy.
This contract marked a key milestone in the operation of the Rafale in the armed forces over the coming years. The objectives of the French forces for the operational availability of the fleet and the reduction of Rafale maintenance costs have been satisfied thanks to a global, long-term maintenance contract based on payment per flying hour, with a commitment by Dassault Aviation to ensure that the amount will be regressive in future years.
The so-called “Rafale care” contract covers all the functions of the aircraft with the exception of the engine and the radar, countermeasures and weapon systems. Beyond general overhaul and repair activities, “Rafale Care” offers a high-level service which contributes to meeting the availability and cost targets of the armed forces.
Thales also recently received from the Integrated Maintenance Organization for French MoD Aircraft (SIMMAD) a new 5-year global contract covering the avionics equipment for the French forces aircraft, including the Rafale.
Previously, in January 2008, the French defense procurement agency (DGA) awarded to Snecma Company (SAFRAN Group) a so-called “TCO Pack” contract (Total Cost of Ownership; “Pack CGP” - Coût Global de Possession) for the M88-2 engine which powers the Rafale aircraft.
The TCO Pack contract supports the development and production of upgrades to the M88-2 engine parts, an order for 16 engines and spare parts with long-lead times. Upgrades are planned to the high-pressure compressor and high-pressure turbine, and are derived from various technologies tested during a former “ECO” exploratory development program. Qualifications of these modifications and delivery of the first production engine to the TCO Pack standard are scheduled for 2011.
A key milestone in the phased array RBE2 radar program
Early November 2008, Thales company announced that its Active Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) RBE2 radar reached a significant new milestone with the end of its hardware development phase.
This announcement signals the beginning of the first AESA product delivery phase and the validation of the new software functions, which will further enhance the radar’s capacities. This milestone is the last in a long line of key events that Thales has seen with the development of its stateof- the-art radar. AESA flight tests first began in 2003; the radar’s concepts were validated in 2005; the industrialization phase was launched in 2006; and this final phase saw the end of the development period and the beginning of production of the hardware model. Final validation of software functions is expected to end in the first quarter of 2010 with the delivery of AESA radars to Dassault Aviation.
Earlier in 2008, the company saw the successful completion of a series of flight tests on the Rafale, giving further positive results of the radar’s performance in an operational configuration.
Pierre-Yves Chaltiel, Senior Vice President in charge of Thales’ aerospace solutions for government sector, comments: “Thales’ AESA radar is the furthest advanced radar of its kind in Europe. With several years advance on competitor solutions, Thales’ technology is unrivalled and we are extremely proud to be launching the production phase of this cutting-edge radar.”
In 2006, the French defense procurement agency (DGA) agreed to a so-called “Roadmap” that will deliver Rafale fighter aircraft with a new generation of sensors including the AESA RBE2 radar to the French Air Force and Navy by 2012.
Full integration of the AESA RBE2 positions the Rafale as the only combat aircraft of its category equipped with active arrays for both its radar and electronic warfare suite. This outstanding system that allows a 360-degree smart antenna array coverage, is a real technological breakthrough on-board the aircraft. Thales has been developing its own European advanced AESA radar technology since the 1990s. With its long experience in radar technology for combat aircraft and in Passive Antenna Electronic Scanning functions qualified for the Rafale’s RBE2 radar, Thales has developed AESA radar prototypes and tested them on both Rafale and Hack (Mirage 2000 test bed) aircraft since 2003.
On July 9, 2008, the French defense procurement agency (DGA) successfully completed the third and last qualification firing test of the infrared terminal guidance version of the AASM modular air-to-ground weapon, developed by Sagem Défense Sécurité (SAFRAN Group).
This AASM version features an inertial/GPS guidance system identical to that of the qualified “tenmeter class” version (already in operational service and combat proven), and an infrared imager that automatically identifies the target several seconds before impact and corrects the trajectory. This successful test firing is the culmination of qualification tests for this “INS/GPS plus IR” version of the AASM.
The final firing test was carried out at very low altitude from a range of 16 kilometers. The aim was to hit a target whose coordinates transmitted to the AASM prior to release had been purposely shifted by 80 meters. In other words, this firing test was designed to prove that the infrared terminal guidance AASM could locate and strike its target to within a few meters, in an area with few landmarks that would allow correcting the target trajectory.
Back to Afghanistan
From February 8, 2008 through May 31, 2008, three Rafale F2 fighters from French Air Force Squadron 1/7 “Provence”, based at Saint-Dizier (BA 113), were again deployed in combat operations over Afghanistan as part of coalition allied forces.
The aircraft - three single-seaters Rafale C until April 6, 2008, then replaced by three two-seaters Rafale B - were based at Kandahar in order to meet NATO demands for increased firepower in the southern provinces of Afghanistan.
During this second tour of operations, the Rafale flew 212 combat missions and logged about 730 flight hours. On April 20, 2008, a Rafale B F2 successfully launched two AASM INS/GPS-guided bombs during a combat mission in Afghanistan. The aircraft was patrolling with a Mirage 2000D when a Canadian ground controller called in an air strike to suppress adversary fire. Cloud cover obstructed the fighters from delivering the laser-guided bombs usually called for, so the Rafale dropped (for the first time in wartime conditions) an AASM which destroyed the enemy target. Thirty minutes later, another AASM was successfully fired.
On May 21, 2008, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN-75) cooperated with the French Navy, as French Rafale pilots landed on the flight deck to work on their carrier qualifications on U.S. aircraft carriers and to improve the interoperability from a technical point of view. During the exercise, French pilots accumulated six traps with two Rafales (M15 and M17). A third aircraft (M02) completed 13 touch-and-go landings to test how well French planes could handle the stresses of landing on Truman’s flight deck.
In July 2008, as part of its continuation training program, the French Navy (Flottille 12F) sent six Rafales M F2 to the United States to participate in Joint Task Force EXercise (JTFEX) 2008-4. During this deployment, the Rafales participated in demanding combat training missions, simulating attacks of ground targets with precision weapons, and performing mock air-to-air engagements at long and close ranges.
On June 26, 2008, the Rafales left their home base in Landivisiau to cross the Atlantic via Santa Maria in the Azores archipelago. During the first two weeks of their deployment, the aircraft were accommodated at Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana, in Virginia. Numerous training were flown from there with, or against, locally-based U.S. jets. For the whole duration of the exercise, VFA-31 “Tomcatters”, a F/A-18E “Super Hornet” squadron, was the hosting unit for the Flottille 12F. For the French fighter pilots, training with their U.S. counterparts was an excellent opportunity to test new tactics and to verify interoperability.
The exercise culminated with the deployment of five Rafales M for five days onboard USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). Prior to embarking on this U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Flottille 12 F pilots performed four simulated field deck landings each (two in daytime and two at night) at NAS Oceana or at nearby Naval Auxiliary Landing Field (NALF) Fentress.
On July 19, 2008, the first Rafale carrier landing was recorded onboard USS Roosevelt. The first two days onboard were dedicated to carrier qualifications and every pilot had to log ten “traps”, six in daytime and four at night, in order to become fully qualified again. On the very first day, four pilots gained their day and night carrier qualifications, with the other four the following day, an achievement made possible by both the superb handling qualities of the Rafale in the circuit and the size of the USS Roosevelt which allows simultaneous launch and recovery of fighters. The event marks the first integrated U.S. and French carrier qualifications aboard a U.S. aircraft carrier.
Once fully qualified, French Rafale pilots switched to complex, multinational combat training scenarios. They operated as part of the Roosevelt’s Carrier Air Wing (CVW-8). For mission planning, briefings and debriefings, they shared a ready-room with VFA-31 aircrews.
“The whole spectrum of combat missions was simulated, from self-escort strike to close air support, and from basic fighter maneuvering to air defense” explained Commander Fabrice Valette, Flottille 12F Commanding Officer. “For strike or close air support scenarios, we simulated attacks with loads of six AASM stand-off, fire-and-forget, modular air-to-surface armaments, or six GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, plus a full-up air-to-air load of MICA radar and infrared-guided missiles,” Valette added.
In five days, Flottille 12F Rafales logged 93 carrier landings, including 33 at night. The last Rafale was catapulted from the USS Roosevelt on July 23, 2008, and the squadron continued the exercise from NAS Oceana. In Early August, the six Rafales flew across the Atlantic back to Landivisiau Naval Air Station.
In summary, JTFEX 2008-4 was, for the Rafale, an outstanding success as the aircraft demonstrated, on a large scale, that it can routinely and safely operate, day or night, from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, far from its traditional support infrastructure. This exercise has proved, once again, that the Rafale has no difficulty blending into a U.S.-led coalition type force.
From July 27 to August 27, 2008, four twin-seaters Rafale fighters from French Air Force Squadron 1/7 “Provence”, based at Saint-Dizier (BA 113), conducted this aircraft’s first operational exercise in the United States. The aim of this trip was to compare the aircraft’s operating experience, especially during foreign deployment missions, with the requirements of weapon systems used by other air forces.
After a transatlantic ferry flight via the Azores archipelago, and a stopover in Bangor, Maine, the four Rafales B F2 touched down at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona on July 28, 2008.
At Luke AFB, the exchange with the F-16-equipped 309th Fighter Squadron “Wild Ducks” was very successful, meeting both human and tactical objectives and enabling the crews to get to know each other. Rafale fighters conducted simulated combats with the F-16s.
According to Captain Matt Spears, a F-16 pilot, “It was an amazing opportunity, and I was very impressed by the capabilities of the Rafale.” Colonel Kurt Neubauer, 56th Fighter Wing commander, said: “It’s the first time that French Air Force Rafales have been deployed to the United States. Training with the French Air Force provided us the invaluable opportunity to learn from each other’s operational experience and improve our combat skills. Working together with France in this capacity is invaluable to enhancing and sharing tactical and operational expertise.”
Since Luke AFB is the training base for USAF units, all squadrons passing through will learn about the Rafale’s performance capabilities. This should facilitate teamwork during combined operations.
From August 7 to 22, 2008, the four Rafales operated from Nellis Air Force Base (Nevada) for the Red Flag 08-4 war gaming exercise, involving the air forces of several allied countries.
The exercise is designed to enhance interoperability. Red Flag simulates situations very close to actual combat, in particular with the use of live munitions for certain “attacks”. In a typical exercise, “Blue Air” (friend) engages “Red Air” (foe) under realistic combat conditions. Each engagement involves forty to sixty aircraft, covering all mission aspects, and focusing on progressive levels and density: different threats, from the least to the most sophisticated; and a theater saturated with surface-to-air and air-to-air threats, pushing aircraft to operate at their limits.
Deployed solely in the “Blue Air” forces, the Rafales participated in all major missions. Their crews were designated as “mission commanders” of the strike missions several times, thanks to the stand-off, all-weather, capability of the AASM weapons. The French detachment participated in at least one day strike and one night strike daily, for a period of ten days, confirming the aircraft’s complete range of capabilities and its true omnirole design.
Operating in a dense, hostile environment, the aircraft’s systems provided pilots with a clear, precise view of the tactical situation. The multi-sensor data fusion system (RBE2 radar, Front Sector Optronic: FSO, SPECTRA self-defense suite, Link 16 data link) worked perfectly. Thanks to this system, the Rafale largely proved its self-defense capabilities. It experienced no losses due to air defense systems, and was often able to eliminate these threats.
Operational scenarios provided for the simultaneous use of MICA EM and IR air-to-air missiles, AASM guided weapons and SCALP-EG cruise missiles. American observers were impressed by the accuracy of the AASM weapon. Each aircraft can simultaneously engage six targets over an extended area, with each bomb having its own ballistics and target coordinates.
The Rafale fighters used the Link-16 data link network for allied aircraft. This technology ensures Rafale’s interoperability with other weapon systems, in particular for a balanced allocation of firing plans between the different aircraft.
The French squadron’s logistics information was networked with the home base at Saint-Dizier (BA 113). Two encrypted communications systems, Harpagon and Amasis, sent updated technical data for each aircraft back to France. In fact, throughout the service life of the aircraft, this setup will offer enhanced traceability of all spare parts used. Furthermore, it will decrease maintenance costs because parts will only be changed when strictly necessary.
Apart from these two major training operations in the United States (“JTFEX 2008-4” and “Red Flag 08-4”), the Rafale also successfully participated, in 2008, to several other international exercises, such as the “Air Defense Week” (Landivisiau Naval Air Station, France, March 31-April 4, 2008), “Frisian Flag 2008” (Leeuwarden air base, the Netherlands, March 31 - April 11, 2008), “Aegean Gust” (Larissa air base, Greece, May 12-16, 2008), and “Tiger Meet 2008 - Ocean Tiger” (Landivisiau Naval Air Station, France, June 23-27, 2008).
For the Swiss Partial Tiger Replacement (TTE) programme see http://www.defpro.com/news/details/4911/
French operational requirements have been set at 294 Rafales. The Air Force will receive 234 aircraft (in two versions: the single-seater Rafale C and the two-seater Rafale B), while the Navy will operate 60 Rafales M (single-seater).
To date, 120 production aircraft have been ordered for both services. The Air Force order covers a total of 82 Rafales (44 Rafales C and 38 Rafales B) and the Navy order is for 38 Rafales M. Under current plans, production of the aircraft is to continue until 2023.
By early January 2009, 64 production aircraft (excluding the development aircraft) have been delivered to the warfighters (25 Rafales M to the French Navy; 7 Rafales C and 32 Rafales B to the French Air Force). A Rafale B (B316) was lost by the French Air Force on December 6, 2007.
The total cost of the Rafale program, including development, pre-production, production and integrated logistical support, amounts to € 33,273-million Euro (inclusive of valueadded tax) at 2003 prices. This is an increase of just 4.18 percent over the projected cost in 1988, when the original contract was placed. The program is profitable and on schedule, which is rare for most new-generation fighter aircraft that call for the introduction of so many cutting-edge technologies and systems.
A decade before the still-to-come Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Rafale is the first aircraft to have been designed, from the outset, to take off and land both from land bases and from aircraft carriers. The Rafale will ultimately replace all the current types of fighter aircraft now in the inventory of the French Air Force and the French Navy.
Missions of the Rafale omnirole fighter:
- air defense and air superiority;
- close air support;
- engagement of surface targets (with laser-guided bombs, all-weather stand-off precision weapons, or cruise missiles);
- anti-ship attack;
- nuclear strike;
- real time tactical and strategic reconnaissance (ground and naval targets);
- in-flight refueling (“buddy-buddy” tanker capability for the French Navy Rafale M).