The Rafale is slated to become the sole type of combat aircraft operated by the French Air Force and French Navy. Everything that is necessary to maintain its combat relevance will be done.
Since 2013, all Rafale “Omnirole” fighters have been delivered with the “Active Electronically Scanned Array” (AESA) RBE2 radar. They are also fitted with a new missile launch detector and the “Front Sector Optronics” updated unit (FSO-IT), offering improved target detection and identification performance.
Meanwhile, engineering work is already being done to further extend the air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities and the connectivity of the Rafale well into the next decade.
The on-going effort will ensure more robust detection, tracking and identification of emerging air-to-air threats, and increase the Rafale’s survivability with new low observable odes and with the latest advances in electronic warfare systems.
Air-to-surface capabilities could benefit from assisted target recognition and enhanced sensor resolution, enabling the Rafale to attack ever more elusive targets.
New materials could extend the life of engine components.
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 on-going 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. Qualification firing was performed in April 2017, paving the way to service entry.
- The Thales Talios new-generation targeting and 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 theatre).
F3R also includes upgrades to Rafale sensors and to systems ensuring total interoperability.
On 20 March 2017, the French Ministry for Defense authorized the start of development of the new Rafale F4 standard.
The policy underpinning the Rafale program is continuous development to adapt the aircraft to changing needs, through a succession of standards. As early as 2023, a first version of the F4 standard will follow the F3R standard, scheduled for qualification in 2018.
The F4 standard will incorporate operational experience feedback and enable continuous improvement of the Rafale to be maintained.
Looking further ahead, the connectivity of the Rafale will be further extended to keep it “plugged” into tomorrow’s integrated battlespace. New systems will be introduced to increase the fighter’s lethality against the latest air-defenses and facilitate communication with higher echelons, other air assets, tactical units in the fields and surface combatants at sea.