Mission ready with low operating costs

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.

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 centralised armament safety system makes all safety pins and last chance / end-of-runway actions unnecessary, minimising 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.
  • With the M88 engine, it is no longer necessary to perform checks on an engine test bench before reinstalling an engine on an aircraft. The M88’s ground-breaking design means that the engine can be changed and the aircraft can take off again within an hour.

To allow the Rafale the greatest possible autonomy during deployments, it requires only minimum ground support equipment:

  • 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. Until recently, only two types of carriages and cradles were required to perform all armament loading / unloading. Now, only the Sefiam 1602e is required for all the external stores, weapons, pods and pylons. Moreover, this advanced remotely-operated weapon loader is battery-powered and proves more accurate to position and operate, with fewer personnel.

All of these maintainability features were validated from the development phase by French Navy and Air and Space 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 can be organised for export clients, providing them with the operating autonomy they need until the successful deployment of their fleet.

An affordable high-tech fighter

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

  • Its unique maintenance concept results in a lighter scheduled maintenance plan with less man-hours and a smaller number of maintenance technicians.
  • 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 4,500 flight hours logged by 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.
  • 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 specialised 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 engineers 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.

A strong commitment to increase availability

Dassault Aviation is in charge of the support and maintenance contracts for all Dassault Aviation aircraft in service in France and abroad (PBL = Performance Based Logistics).

  • The founding principles of this process are that a single contractor is accountable for the contract and that the package of services and supplies are contracted over a long duration to guarantee long-term stability.
    These principles allow the State to obtain from the Industry a strong commitment for the long-term availability of its fleets and of its support systems and give Dassault Aviation a long term vision to predict future needs and allocate sufficient resources to the various programmes.
  • In the face of the successive crises we have recently gone through (Covid, war in Ukraine, raw material crisis and supply chain crisis), these contracts demonstrate their effectiveness every day. They allow the French State and the Industry to share a common global view and bring in a true capability to predict, anticipate and act thanks to a centralised analysis by the industrial prime contractor of all critical needs for the availability of the fleets. It also helps ensure the long term future of the defence industrial technological base.
  • Through a reinforced technical and logistics support, including at the various air bases, close to the final users, Dassault Aviation strives to increase combat fleets availability thanks to a centralised State-Industry technical platform, end-to-end logistics, availability/technical/logistics advisers, etc.
  • As the company is the single contractor, Dassault Aviation can meet new engagement scenarios, as demonstrated during high intensity warfare exercises. They are specifically adapted to each client, in France and abroad.
  • Dassault Aviation’s primary objective it to integrate, manage, anticipate and innovate in the field of operational support in order to, day after day, improve availability rates.