RBE2 / AESA – “Active Electronically Scanned Array” radar

The Rafale is the first operational – and so far, the only – European 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.

Rafale B in flight
Rafale B in flight

In October 2012, the first Rafale fighter equipped with an “Active Electronically Scanned Array” (AESA) RBE2 radar was delivered to the French MoD. The AESA provides 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 severe jamming environments,
  • 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 new generation 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 AESA offers an unprecedented growth-potential for the future.

he Rafale C137 is the first European combat aircraft equipped with an active phased array radar (RBE2 AESA), delivery by Dassault Aviation and Thales to DGA.
he Rafale C137 is the first European combat aircraft equipped with an active phased array radar (RBE2 AESA), delivery by Dassault Aviation and Thales to DGA.

In those situations where discretion becomes the single most important tactical factor, the Rafale can rely on several other sensor systems:

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 angular tracking and laser range-finding for air, sea and ground targets.

The FSO’s powerful TV sensor (cued by the Rafale’s active and passive sensors) is truly valuable to positively identify targets in situations where a visual contact is required by the rules of engagement.

Rafale equipped with an active phased array radar (RBE2 AESA)
Rafale equipped with an active phased array radar (RBE2 AESA)

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 manoeuvres.

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.

SPECTRA now includes a new generation missile warning system that offers increased detection performance against the latest threats.

Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. Rafale M on the flight deck.
Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. Rafale M on the flight deck.

Net-centric capability

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.

Patrol flight of two Rafales
Patrol flight of two Rafales

Talios – Targeting and Laser designation pod

The new Talios targeting and laser designator pod designed by Thales, brings full day and night surveillance and 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 Talios pod operates in the mid-wave infrared band and is coupled to a high-resolution new generation TV sensor.

Talios is interoperable with all existing laser-guided weapons.

Rafale C with Talios pod
Rafale C with Talios pod

AREOS – Recce pod with Quick Analysis Capability

For both strategic and tactical reconnaissance missions, the French Armed Forces have adopted the new generation Thales AREOS reconnaissance system for the Rafale.

As demonstrated in Libya, Mali, the Central African Republic, Iraq and Syria, this high-tech, day and night equipment can be used in a wide range of scenarios, at stand-off distances, from high to low altitudes.

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.

Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. Rafale M catapulting.
Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier. Rafale M catapulting.