Four batches of 13, 48, 59 and 60 aircraft have been ordered by the French MoD, totaling 132 aircraft for the French Air Force (63 RAFALE B two-seaters and 69 RAFALE C single-seaters) and 48 RAFALE M naval single-seaters for the French Navy. Egypt and Qatar have signed contracts for 24 RAFALES each. India procured 36 RAFALES in 2016, bringing firm orders to 264 aircraft.

Capabilities are developed incrementally, and released in packages (“standards”). The first release (standard F1) featured only air-to-air capabilities. It became operational in 2004 with the French Navy on RAFALEs launched from the Charles de Gaulle nuclear aircraft-carrier during operation “Enduring Freedom”.

The second capability release (standard F2) entered service in the French Air Force and in the French Navy in 2006. It provided the RAFALE with its true “OMNIROLE” capability for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

Standard F3 is the current release. It has been qualified by the French MoD in 2008. It adds air reconnaissance with the AREOS recce pod, anti-ship with the AM39 EXOCET (implemented in RAFALE B, C, and M), and the nuclear capability with the ASMPA. The first RAFALE F3 was delivered to the French Air Force Operational Evaluation Centre (CEAM) in mid-2008 at Mont-de-Marsan AFB, in full accordance with the contracted delivery schedule.

In January 2014, the F3R standard development contract for the RAFALE combat aircraft was announced. The F3R standard is an evolution of the RAFALE “F3” standard. It is part of the ongoing process to continuously improve the aircraft in line with operational requirements. It will enable Dassault Aviation to integrate the following equipment and weapons onto the RAFALE:

– The European METEOR long-range air-to-air missile produced by MBDA. This high-performance missile will achieve maximum effectiveness thanks to the “active array” radar which equips all production RAFALE aircraft delivered since mid-2013. The first guided firing of a METEOR was conducted from a RAFALE in April 2015.

– The Thales TALIOS new-generation laser designator pod. Primarily used for air-to-ground strikes, in daylight or darkness, this pod will further enhance the high degree of precision that the RAFALE has achieved since its first engagements (in 2007 in the Afghan theater).

– The laser homing version of the Sagem AASM Air-to-Ground Modular Weapon HAMMER. This family of weapons, with GPS primary guidance and an additional booster, is unmatched. It was used by the RAFALE during operations in Libya (2011) to destroy targets at ranges of several dozens of kilometers with metric precision. The laser homing version is particularly adapted to moving targets. Partial integration of this weapon was already performed as an “urgent operational requirement” for the French intervention in Mali.

F3 R will also include upgrades to RAFALE sensors and to systems ensuring total interoperability. Validation of the F3 R standard is scheduled for 2018.

The French Air Force first operational RAFALE squadron, EC 1/7 “Provence”, has been stationed at Saint-Dizier air base since 2006. The second FAF fighter squadron equipped with RAFALE, EC 1/91 “Gascogne”, was officially re-created at St-Dizier in March 2009. In October 2010, it was followed by ETR 2/92 “Aquitaine”, a joint Air Force / Navy unit that will now handle all aircrew training. In November 2010, EC 3/30 “Lorraine” was re-created at Al Dhafra air base, in the United Arab Emirates, with Al Dhafra becoming in effect a forward operating base for RAFALE fighters. In 2011, French Navy Flottille 11F converted from the SUPER ETENDARD to the RAFALE at Landivisiau, and was declared fully operational in late 2012. Escadron de Chasse 2/30 ‘Normandie-Niemen’ became the fourth Armée de l’Air front-line squadron to convert to the RAFALE when it reformed at Mont-de-Marsan in June 2012.

French Air Force Rafale in operations (Opération Harmattan) - In flight view. Fitted with AASM, Mica IR missiles and Damoclès Pod.
French Air Force Rafale in operations (Opération Harmattan) – In flight view. Fitted with AASM, Mica IR missiles and Damoclès Pod. – R. Nicolas-Nelson © French Air Force