The way ahead

Rafale B in flight
French Air Force Rafale.

Ultimately, the Rafale will be the only combat aircraft operated by the French Air and Space Force and the French Navy. Every effort will be made to ensure that it continues to play a leading role in the French armed forces beyond 2040.

Since 2013, all Rafales have been delivered with the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) RBE2 radar. They are also fitted with a new missile launch detector (DDM-NG) and updated Front Sector Optronics (FSO-IT), offering improved target detection and identification. Development of the F3-R standard was launched in January 2014 and completed in October 2018. This upgrade to the F3-R standard is part of the on-going process to continuously improve the aircraft in line with the requirements of the armed forces. It enabled Dassault Aviation to integrate the following equipment and weapons onto the Rafale:

  • The Meteor air-to-air missile produced by MBDA. This very long-range, ramjet-powered missile can take full advantage of its revolutionary capabilities thanks to the AESA radar which has equipped all production Rafale fighter delivered since 2013. The first guided firing of a Meteor missile from a Rafale took place in April 2015. The qualification firing was performed in April 2017, paving the way for service entry.
  • The new Thales Talios targeting and laser designator pod. Used for air-to-ground strikes in daylight or darkness, this pod features the latest advances in optronics to extend target acquisition and tracking ranges, and to optimize the precision of Rafale strikes.

The F3-R standard also includes multiple modifications to further improve the Rafale’s effectiveness and its interoperability with France’s allies.

Development of a new, F4 standard started in December 2018.

The policy underpinning the Rafale program is based on continuous development of new standards to adapt the aircraft to technology advances and operational feedback. The new connectivity solutions in the F4 standard will further improve effectiveness in net-centric combat and pave the way for the Future Combat Air System (FCAS). This standard will also include radar and Front Sector Optronics (FSO) upgrades, helmet-mounted sight capabilities, Mica-NG air-to-air missiles and 1,000kg AASM/Hammer air-to-surface weapons. An initial version of the F4 standard will be available in 2022. The full standard will be delivered in 2024.

Looking further ahead, studies are under way to ensure that within the next decade, new Rafale standards are equipped with air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities adapted to tomorrow’s net-centric operations.

These capabilities will ensure detection, tracking and identification of emerging air-to-air threats and enhance the Rafale’s survivability thanks to new low-observable modes and a cutting edge electronic warfare system.

Air-to-surface modes, meanwhile, will benefit from assisted target recognition algorithms and enhanced sensor resolution to attack ever more elusive targets.

Finally, the network capabilities of the Rafale will be further extended to ensure that it continues to play a leading role in tomorrow’s net-centric battlespace.

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