In November 2009, a squad of F-22 Raptors from the US Air Force 1st Fighter Wing in Virginia flew to UAE to train with French air force fighter jets and Typhoon jets from the British Air Force. According to US military data, out of the eleven one on one simulated engagements with French jets, F-22s shot down French Jets in six one on one engagements, while five of the simulated battles ended in draws. The following month, however, the French Ministry of Defense released video captures from a French jet’s cine camera showing an F-22 in a disadvantageous dog-fighting position, implying the French plane had won at least one round of pretend-fighting. That state-of-the-art French jet plane was Dassault Rafale, that defeated F-22 Raptor which is the most advanced and sophisticated fighter plane of the US Air force.
We will be presenting an in-depth analysis of the Rafale fighter jet that is hyped as being the game changer by our adversary, the biggest take away is the fact that no matter how magical a plane is, any pilot can unlock the mystery of a dog fight to his or her advantage with apt skills and knowledge. It is relevant against both traditional and asymmetrical threats, it addresses the emerging needs of the armed forces in a changing geopolitical context, and it remains at the forefront of technical innovation.
In the mid-1970s the French Air Force and Navy had requirements for a new generation of fighters to replace those in service, mainly the Mirages. In 1983, the “Future European Fighter Aircraft” (FEFA) programme was initiated, bringing together Italy, Spain, Germany, France and the United Kingdom to jointly develop a new fighter. Later France got out of that project due to differences with the other partners.
In France, the government proceeded with its own programme. The French Ministry of Defense required an aircraft capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground, all-day and adverse weather operations. By March 1980, the number of configurations had been narrowed down to four, two of which had a combination of canards, delta wings and a single vertical tail-fin. The resultant Rafale A technology demonstrator was a large delta winged fighter, with all-moving canards. The technology demonstrator was rolled out in December 1985 in Saint-Cloud, and took its maiden flight on 4 July 1986 from Istres-Le Tubé Air Base in southern France.
- System Description
Rafales are twin-engine Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft manufactured by Dassault Aviation, a French firm. Rafale fighter jets are positioned as ‘Omni role’ aircrafts that are capable to perform a wide-range of combat roles.
Rafale, is available in three variants:
- Rafale C: Single seater operated from land bases
- Rafale M: Single seater for carrier operations
- Rafale B: Two-seater flown from land base.
The Rafale was developed as a modern jet fighter with a very high level of agility; Dassault chose to combine a delta wing with active close coupled canard to maximize maneuverability. All variants have 95% commonality, only Rafale B dual seat variant differs having 450 KG more weight then C variant (Airfare) which is 9850 KG, additionally B variant carries 400 litres less. Rafale M the naval variant on the other hand weighs around 10600 KG.
The Rafale features a delta wing with close-coupled canards. It ensures excellent handling throughout the whole flight envelope. The close-coupled canards along with delta wing configuration is key to the combat performance of the Rafale due to which even at high angle-of-attack it remains fully agile, and its range performance in strike missions with heavy weapon loads is unmatched for such a compact design. The radar cross section of the airframe has been kept to the lowest possible value by selecting the most adequate outer mould line and materials. Most of the stealth design features are classified, but some of them are clearly visible, such as the serrated patterns on the trailing edge of the wings & canards and extensive use of Radar absorbing materials (RAM), and composite materials significantly reduces RCS. It uses overall 70% of composite materials which makes it lighter and is 40% accountable for good payload carrying capacity. Rafale has great maneuverability and is able to pull -3.2 to 9 Gs. The jet has a wide range of center of gravity positions for all flight conditions, as well as excellent handling throughout the whole flight envelope.
The Rafale’s glass cockpit was designed around the principle of data fusion – a central computer intelligently selects and prioritizes information to display to pilots for simpler command and control. The primary flight controls are arranged in a hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS)-compatible configuration, with a right-handed side-stick controller and a left-handed throttle.
The Rafale is fitted with two Snecma M88 engines, each capable of providing up to 50 KN of dry thrust and 75 KN with afterburners enabling it to achieve top speed of Mach 1.8 at higher altitudes and 1.2 at lower altitude. The engines feature a non-polluting combustion chamber and technology to reduce radar and infrared signatures. The M88 enables the Rafale to super cruise while carrying four missiles and one drop tank.
- Performance Parameters
Rafale has maximum speed of 1200 knots with afterburners, while it has cruising speed of 750 knots. and is able to pull -3.2 Gs to 9 Gs. It has an operational radius of 918 NM, with 60 thousand feet per min rate of climb. Furthermore, it gives more superior flight performance and agility both at low speeds and in high speeds for which most of the time Delta wing are suitable.
- AIR (Airborne Intercept Radar)
Talking of avionics, the first and the most important thing that comes to one’s mind is the AIR. Rafale has the RBE-2AA AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) airborne intercept radar, manufactured by French multinational company Thales as the heart of its avionics having expected contact range of 80 NMs with +/- 70-degree azimuth and elevation coverage.
RBE-2 AA provides significant high-resolution radar image of battlefield, giving superior navigation, reconnaissance, situational awareness and guidance to pilot in all 3 dimensions. It can detect and track up to 40 targets for close combat and long-range interceptions in all weather and in severe jamming environments & can engage 8 targets at a time. The RBE2-AA is fully compatible in terms of detection range with the long-range Meteor air-to-air missile.
- EW Suit
The SPECTRA (Self-Protection Equipment to Counter Threats for RAFALE Aircraft) internal EW (Electronic Warfare) 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. SPECTRA make threat library that can be easily defined, integrated and updated on short notice by users in their own country, and in full autonomy. SPECTRA include a new generation missile warning system that offers increased detection performance against the latest threats.
FSO (Front Sector Optronics) part of EW suit is developed by THALES. Operating in the optical wavelengths, it is immune to radar jamming, includes Infrared search and track system and it provides long-range detection and identification, high resolution angular tracking and laser range-finding for air, sea and ground targets. Due to all these techs FSO give more accurate and precision guidance to MICA IR Long range BVR without using Radar and thus preventing opponent RWR pop ups.
For both strategic and tactical reconnaissance missions, the French Armed Forces have adopted the new generation THALES AREOS (Airborne Recce Observation System) reconnaissance system for the RAFALE. 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.
- Targeting pod
Rafale has Damocles as its pod. The Damocles laser designator pod designed by THALES brings full day and night laser designation capability to the RAFALE. It permits laser-guided weapons to be delivered at stand-off ranges and altitudes.
The Rafale can carry more ordnance than any of its competitors. The Air Force variants (B and C) have 14, and the Navy (M) variant has 13 hard points. Being omni role capable aircraft, it can carry air to air, air to ground, air to sea and non-conventional weapons.
- Air to Air MICA missile (Missile Interception, Combat Auto defense) is intended for short and medium range combat, with a nominal range of 80 km, and has both electromagnetic and infrared seekers. It can be used in both WVR and BVR engagements.
- Hammer (Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range) AASM (Armament Air-Sol Modulaire) is a modular air to ground stand-off weapon and has a range of 50 kms.
- Scalp air-to ground cruise missile also has two-meter precision capability and is one of the most potent weapons of Rafale.
- In ASHW (Anti-ship warfare) role, Rafale use EXOCET AM-39 anti-ship transonic cruise missile
- The 2500 rounds/min NEXTER 30M791 30 mm internal cannon is available on both single and two-seater
- The Meteor, with a 160 km range, is a radar-guided long-range (Beyond Visual Range) ramjet-powered missile similar to the American AIM-120D AMRAAM. Undoubtedly, it is the most potent arrow in the Rafales quiver.
- Induction Plan in IAF
India had signed an inter-governmental agreement with France and Dassault Aviation in September 2016 to purchase 36 Rafale jets in flyaway condition from the French manufacturer. The deal had been signed for approximately Rs 59,000 crore i.e. 8.8 billion dollars.
The first batch of 5 Rafales including RB-003 trainer will be reaching India today i.e. on 29thJuly,2020 after having a stop at UAE. The five jets will be commissioned in No.17 Sqn “Golden Arrows” at Ambala Airbase. All 36 jets are expected to arrive in India by end of 2021, for which the IAF has been reportedly undertaking preparations, including readying required infrastructure and training of pilots.
- Employment Role
Rafale the future potent threat for PAF, can be employed in different offensive and defensive counter air operations. India has identified the French fighters for their strategic role to deliver nuclear weapons. While China in the past has apprehended that India will deploy the nuclear-capable Rafale fighter jets in the border regions of China and Pakistan to enhance its deterrence capability and now that apprehension is proving to be true as India has planned to immediately deploy No.17 Sqn “Golden Arrows” to Leh to counter China in Ladakh. Following are the roles in which Rafales can be employed:
Due to long range of armament and standoff capability, Rafale can act as sweep aircraft very finely. And to disturb PAF caps, Rafales can come in wall formation having distance of 40 to 50 NM b/w northern and southern group.
As Rafale can carry Meteor BVR along with MICA medium range air to air missile so it can perform its escort role as tied, free, dedicated, designated or reception escorts very efficiently.
Rafale is typically outfitted with 14 hard points, five of which are suitable for heavy armaments or auxiliary fuel tanks, Rafale carries the 30 mm GIAT cannon and can be outfitted with a range of laser-guided bombs and ground-attack munitions
In defensive combat air operations Rafale can effectively be used as CAPs to counter enemy’s sweeps and escorts. In Indo-Pak scenario Rafales will fly, race course pattern parallel to border.
- Nuclear Attack
Rafale has the capacity to create nuclear deterrence as it can carry nuclear weapons.
- Airfield Attack
Rafale can carry a total of 9.500 kg of air-to-ground weapons along with the state-of-the-art avionics’ equipment make it a very offensive option.
- Anti-Ship Attacks
The AM39 EXOCET is a French built anti-ship missile which enables Rafale to hit the marine targets from a long range.
- Air-Interdiction Missions
“Hammer” Precision-Guided Munitions and “SCALP” long-range stand-off missile makes Rafale an effective option for air to ground attacks for Air-Interdiction Missions.
- Comparison with F-16 BLK 52 & Jf-17 BLK 3
As of now F-16 Blk 52 is the frontline and the best aircraft of PAF inventory but very soon this title is going to get clinched by JF-17 Block-3, while on other hand IAF has Rafale to pitch in. Now we will compare state of the art aircrafts of both countries.
- Airborne Intercept Radars
Due to modern RBE-2 AESA radar, Rafale will be able to track 40 targets and engage 8 targets at a time, while F-16 can track only 16 targets and engage 2 targets simultaneously, as it has planner array radar, so even outnumbered Rafale A/Cs will be able to compete more F-16s nevertheless with the arrival of JF-17 Blk-3s the game will be different as KLJ-7A onboard the JF-17 Blk-3 is also in the league of its own for a size of fighter that JF-17 is. Just like RBE-2 of Rafale it is also an AESA radar, housing more than 1000 TR (Transistor/Receiver) modules and hence making it immune to jamming and other suppression attacks. With a range of up to 90 NM its capabilities will be comparable to that of RBE-2 of Rafale or can possibly even surpass it.
- BVR Missiles
Long range BVR meteor will deprive PAF from FLO (First Launch Opportunity) which PAF has enjoyed till date thanks to Aim-120 C-5s but with the induction of JF-17 Blk-3, due to PL-15 Beyond Visual Range missile the BVR engagement capabilities of PAF & IAF will be neck & neck and with the number game in PAF’s favour the whole scenario isn’t too difficult to understand.
- T/W Ratio
The more thrust to weight ratio of Rafale, makes it more maneuverable than F-16, that enables Rafale to outmaneuver in close combat. Though the difference is very negligible but still Rafale has a slight edge on F-16, nonetheless, with RD-93 MA growling inside JF-17 Blk-3, giving it a max speed of Mach 2.0 the libra will also lean towards JF-17 Blk-3 in this department. Moreover, the additional use of composite materials will also compliment this upgrade.
- Hard Points
Thanks to dual engine and a heavier weight category, more hard points i.e. 9 vs 14 give an edge to Rafale over F-16 as it can carry more armament due to 05 additional hard points. And by virtue of more onboard weapons, even outnumbered Rafale A/Cs will be competing more F-16s. JF-17 Blk 3 will be having 8 hardpoints without dual racks but with the inclusion of these the number can even touch north of 9.
- Operational Radius
As the Rafale has almost double the fuel capacity than F-16 and Jf-17, as well as it is a dual engine fighter which makes it to have more operational radius of 918NM, while F-16 has operational radius of 740NM and that of JF-17 Blk 3 will be anywhere north of current Jf-17 variants’ 730 NM.
Now we will be discussing notable weaknesses of Rafale.
- To compare it, Rafale can fly to Mach 1.8 at a maximum of 50,000 feet & Typhoon is at Mach 2.0/ 65,000 feet, MiG-29 is at Mach 2.0/ 59,000 feet, Sukhoi Su-30 MKI is at Mach 2.0/57,000 feet. So, we can safely say that due to significant low max ceiling Rafale will be at a disadvantageous place in BVR engagements.
- Not only the Rafale is one of the costliest aircraft in the world to buy, but it is also very costly to operate. It costs close to 1,600 Cr to buy a single piece (includes spares for 40 years, warranty, infrastructure & lifetime support). Cost is one thing, considering IAF track record most of its fighter fleet sits duck much of the time, with a western system inducted into their arsenal; of which they have no prior experience, it is quite likely that the fate of Rafales will be no different than the SU-30s.
- Not taking any acclaims away from Rafale, just a mere 36 aircrafts are nothing considering in mind the multi-directional threat that IAF has to face. With the likely upgrades on JF-17 Blk-2 and prior as well as F-16s, these 36 Rafales will be in very hot waters.
- Way Forward
- To counter EW suit of Rafale, PAF needs to have good jamming capabilities, as Spectra of Rafale is extremely good for Electronic warfare support, so to jam this lethal EW Suit spectra, PAF needs to acquire good EW platforms like HAVA-SOJ to supplement current fleet of DA-20s.
- PAF needs to expedite work on Project Azm as well as the delivery of JF-17 Blk-3 fighters should be given due heed so that the disadvantageous situation that has arisen after the delivery of these five Rafales can be averted as soon as possible.
- Current fleet of F-16s should be upgraded to Blk-72s or at the very least should be upgraded with AN-APG 83 SABR airborne intercept radars, while, JF-17s of Blk-2 and earlier should be upgraded with KLJ-7A or LKF-601E AI radars.
- To compete with long range BVR, PAF needs to revise tactics and techniques for intercept profile to intercept Rafale in Aerial Combat and have to acquire BVR’s like AIM-120D & Chinese PL-XX.
- In Aerial Combat, to have more capabilities than Rafale, PAF should go for future inductions like SU-35, J-11D so that the gap can be filled till the time Project Azm fighter gets FOC.
- As Rafale gives low RCS, and it would be difficult for PAF radars to detect it, so PAF should acquire sensors like JY 27-A anti stealth radar.
A fighter whose characteristics resemble its name, the Dassault Rafale (“Squall”) is one of the most capable 4.5th generation fighters in service. After discussing in detail it’s crystal clear how capable is Rafale. Great design, good payload, cutting edge avionics, self-protection systems, data fusion and armaments makes it a promising fighter covering huge variety of missions.
Nevertheless, time and again history has proven it is not the machine but the man behind it which makes the ultimate difference. Operation Swift Retort on 27th Feb.2019 is a prime example, our friends on the East will second us. No doubt Rafale is a good platform, no disrespect to Dassault Aviation but it is not invincible. Here we would like to school our dear friends from India that too much boasting is bad for their health. The last time they came out of their shoes they had to lose three of their Aircrafts (1x Su-30MKI,1x Mig-21 Bison & 1x Mi-17). PAF is more than capable of averting any bad intention directing towards our beloved Motherland.
Read Our Article on MBDA’s Meteor vs China’s PL-15 Beyond Visual Range Missile: https://pakstrategic.com/2020/08/17/exclusive-on-mbdas-meteor-vs-chinas-pl-15-beyond-visual-range-missile/