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Built-in supportability

The Rafale supportability and mission readiness claims are supported by the undisputed track record of the earlier generation of French fighters, such as the combat-proven Mirage 2000.

From the early beginning of the development phase, the French MoD assigned very stringent “integrated logistic support” (ILS) requirements to the Rafale programme. “Computer aided design” (CAD) with the Dassault Systèmes CATIA software suite, concurrent engineering and bold technological choices ultimately produced an ILS system that exceeds the original supportability requirements.

French Air Force Rafale B in operations (Opération Serval) - In flight over Mali. Fitted with the Damoclès Pod and GBU-12 laser guided bombs
French Air Force Rafale B in operations (Opération Serval) – In flight over Mali. Fitted with the Damoclès Pod and GBU-12 laser guided bombs. – A. Jeuland © French Air Force

Reliability, accessibility and maintainability

The following examples, selected from a range of unique and innovative features, demonstrate the advance in reliability, accessibility and maintainability brought by the Rafale:

Based on 20 years plus of experience gained on the Mirage 2000, integrated testability of the Weapon Delivery and Navigation System (WDNS) has proven itself. Accordingly, it has been decided on the Rafale to extend it to all aircraft systems. Thanks to accurate and comprehensive testability features, it allows targeted replacements to be made on the flight line, down to electronic circuit boards and specific components.

Human factors engineering work has been conducted with CATIA in order to ensure the accessibility of the components within aircraft bays, so that all flight line operations can be carried out by a single technician. Special attention has been paid to minimizing the duration of these operations and the occurrence of errors.

The centralized armament safety system makes all safety pins and last chance / end-of-runway actions unnecessary, minimizing the risk of errors and accidents, and contributing to achieve an unbeatable “turn around time” (TAT).

Precision manufacturing techniques together with the use of CATIA eliminate time-consuming boresighting procedures following cannon, head-up display (HUD) or radar exchanges.

The groundbreaking design of the M88 suppresses the requirement for a check on a dedicated engine test bench before reinstalling it back on the aircraft.

Deployments on forward operating bases, including austere airfields, have been made easier by keeping ground support equipment to a minimum :

  • The Rafale is fitted with an on-board oxygen generation system (OBOGS) which suppresses the need for liquid oxygen re-filling. Ground support equipment for the production and transportation of oxygen is no longer required
  • Optronics are cooled by a closed-loop nitrogen circuit, which negates the need for a dedicated nitrogen supply chain.
  • The built-in auxiliary power unit (APU) makes engine start-up possible even when no ground power cart is available.
  • All ground support equipment is compact and foldable in order to be easily transportable by air. It can be used without external power. And only two types of carriages and cradles are necessary to perform all armament loading / unloading.

All of these maintainability features were validated from the development phase by French Navy and Air Force support specialists, and have demonstrated their reliability in combat during various operations. This ease of maintenance means that technicians can be trained quickly: Rafale conversion training and aircraft support was organized for an export client within a matter of weeks, providing the client with the operating autonomy it needed to successfully deploy its fleet.

An affordable high-tech fighter

Thanks to its outstanding reliability, the Rafale has lower maintenance costs.

The Rafale does not have to leave its operational base for maintenance purposes. Unlike on other types of fighter aircraft, the Rafale airframe and engine no longer require time-consuming and costly periodic depot-level inspections.

With more than 3,300 logged flight hours on Rafale “fleet leaders”, no structural parts have been changed, proving the robustness of the airframe and the maintenance concept.

A case in point is the modular M88 engine, made up of 21 modules: all maintenance and repair can be done by returning nothing more than modules or discrete parts to the depot or to the manufacturer. No balancing procedure and no run-up check are necessary before returning the engine to service.

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

Failure-prone systems have been eliminated early on in the design process:

  • there is no airbrake
  • the air intakes have no moving parts
  • the ac generators do not have any constant speed drive (CSD)
  • and the refuelling probe is fixed in order to avoid any deployment or retraction problem.

This results in reduced spares inventory, less man-hours and less ground support equipment.

Rafale deployments have confirmed that specialized infrastructures are unnecessary, even in cases of intensive use: maintenance can be performed outdoors or in a temporary shelter.

Another source of reduction of the required spares inventory comes from the constant standardisation approach during the design phase,

  • The same part number is used at various locations on the airframe: this is made possible with precision airframe
  • Manufacturing which allows to suppress fitting and boresighting operations when installing airframe components.
  • Left-hand and right-hand parts are identical wherever applicable (i.e. foreplanes, FCS actuators).
  • Miscellaneous parts such as screws and electronic modules have also been included into the standardisation effort.

The required spares inventory is further reduced by adapting the troubleshooting procedures to allow the exchange of electronic circuit boards within “line replaceable units” (LRUs), rather than exchanging the LRUs: this applies to the RBE2 radar, the SPECTRA EW suite, the MDPU mission computer and to other equipment as well.

Special attention has been paid to accessibility issues: for instance, the side-opening canopy facilitates the replacement of the ejection seat, so that two technicians can perform its removal in 10 minutes only.

No heavy test equipment is needed around the Rafale on the flight line

All checks at this level can be run by maintenance technicians on the aircraft itself.

No test bench is needed for the M88 engine, a remarkable first in fighter aircraft maintenance.

Based on significant experience in corrosion protection for carrier-based aircraft (Super Etendard) and maritime patrol aircraft (Atlantic 1/ Atlantique 2), Dassault Aviation has developed new advanced corrosion protection processes which help drive down the cost of maintenance of the Rafale: corrosion issues discovered during maintenance being the perfect “show stopper” which exceeds spending targets and delays the return of aircraft to service in the most unpredictable way.