The way ahead

The Rafale is slated to become the sole type of combat aircraft operated by the French Air and Space Force and French Navy. Everything that is necessary to maintain its combat relevance will be undertaken.

The policy underpinning the Rafale program is continuous development to adapt the aircraft to changing needs, through a succession of standards. In early 2019, the French Ministry of Defence announced the signature of the development contract of the new Rafale F4 standard. It is part of the on-going process to continuously improve the aircraft in line with operational requirements.

In March 2023, the F4.1 Standard was qualified by the DGA, the French defence procurement agency. It encompasses the adoption of the following equipment and weapons onto the Rafale:

  • for the Front Sector Optronics, a new IRST that will advantageously supplement the Rafale’s existing sensor suite, providing improved day/night passive target detection and identification capabilities against low signature aircraft through the infrared spectrum.
  • for the RBE2 AESA radar, new Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Ground Mobile Target Indication and Tracking (GMTI/T) modes. These improvements significantly enhance the Rafale’s ability to produce, in all weathers, high resolution radar imagery at very long range and to detect and track ground targets.
  • new collaborative modes to increase the Rafale’s detection, tracking and firing capabilities, thus significantly increasing again the lethality of the fighter.
  • the Thales SCORPION® helmet-mounted display to accelerate the designation and acquisition of targets, and new, larger side cockpit displays that offer improved resolution.
  • the HAMMER family now includes the 1000 kg variants that retain the modularity of the 250 kg variants thanks to various guidance kits affixed to various types of bomb bodies. The HAMMER 1000 kg brings new multitarget stand-off capabilities against larger or more hardened targets. The Rafale can carry three HAMMER 1000 weapons while still offering a very long range.

The introduction of the F4.1 Standard has begun and new functionalities and equipment will be introduced over the course of the decade:

  • the MICA NG (New Generation) air-to-air missile.
  • major improvements in the field of connectivity, with a communication server, a Satcom satellite link and new software radios of the CONTACT (Communications numériques tactiques et de théâtre, digital tactical and theater-wide radio communications) family.
  • a new digital jammer for the SPECTRA self-defence / electronic warfare suite.

New developments have been launched to provide the Rafale with new capabilities in the next decade. These developments will allow new, emerging threats to be defeated while improving the Rafale’s survivability thanks to the adoption of new, low probability of interception modes and of a state-of-the-art electronic warfare suite. The integration of more and more powerful artificial intelligence algorithms will help the pilot manage the collaborative combat sphere during increasingly complex missions, when facing more and more elusive threats.