The Dassault Rafale is the primary French multirole 4th Generation Fighter aircraft. During the 1970s, it became apparent to the French Air Force and Navy that it required a new, modern, multirole-minded fighter to succeed its aged stock of aircraft. This prompted officials to consider a lower-risk partnership with other European players to include Britain, Italy, Germany (then as West Germany), and Spain. The program picked up steam in the late 1970s which led to a formal partnership. However, the French removed themselves from the project in 1984, preferring instead to develop an in-house French solution to the standing French requirement. The Rafale was already on Dassault drawing boards even as the Dassault Mirage 2000 (detailed elsewhere on this site) was being developed.
The European consortium eventually netted itself the capable Eurofighter Typhoon while work by Dassault produced the impressive Dassault Rafale. First flight of a prototype was completed on July 4th, 1986 and service introduction - originally scheduled for 1996 - was not until May 18th, 2001. At present, the Rafale is only in service with the French Air Force and Navy. India has committed to a deal involving French Rafales. The French have ordered 180 Rafale aircraft from the original intent to procure 286 airframes. Ninety-one currently serve the French Air Force with forty having been sent to the Navy.
The Rafale has been combat tested in several modern conflicts to date. Its first actions occurred over Afghanistan in support of NATO forces following the U.S. led invasion of the country. The aircraft then performed admirably over the Iraqi Theater after the Saddam Hussein ouster and was then pressed into service under the NATO banner once more when tackling Libyan Army forces during the 2011 Libyan Civil War. Its latest actions have placed it over the skies of Mali in the French intervention there against Muslim radicals attempting a national takeover. Even more recently, the Rafale has participated in allied strikes against ISIS forces in Iraq and Syria.
Since production began in 1986, some 133 Rafales have been produced though only in a few select variants. Rafale A designated the 1986 technology demonstrator which proved many concepts for the future jet sound. The Rafale B then became the primary two-seat multirole fighter model of the French Air Force. The single-seat model was the Rafale C. The Rafale M was developed exclusively for the French Navy and carrier service which included changes to the undercarriage, a strengthening of the structure, and arrestor hook equipment installed. The Rafale became an abandoned missile-only model (twin-seater) and the Rafale R existed as a proposed reconnaissance variant which never came to be.
The Rafale is an advanced fighter platform completed with lightweight-yet-strong composite materials, Fly-By-Wire (FBW) controlling, and voice input capabilities. It features an Active Electronically-Scanned Array (AESA) radar system in its nose. A canard delta-wing planform was adopted for its high tolerances and ability to showcase a plethora of hardpoints for homing, guided, and dropped ordnance. The pilot (with co-pilot in some variants) sits under a large canopy offering excellent vision out-of-the-cockpit. The tail unit incorporates a sole vertical fin atop twin engine exhaust ports. The twin engine arrangement was chosen for both power and survivability common traits of most modern multirole fighter mounts today.
The twin-engine fighter is fitted with 2 x SNECMA M88-2 afterburning turbofan engines developing 11,250 lbf of dry thrust each and up to 17,000 lbf of thrust with afterburner applied. Maximum speed reaches Mach 1.8 and ranges peak at 2,000 nautical miles with three fuel drop tanks fitted. Combat radius is 1,000 nautical miles. The aircraft's service ceiling is 50,000 feet and showcases an excellent rate-of-climb of 60,000 feet-per-minute.
The delta wing design, popularized by early successful Dassault aircraft ventures, was brought back into the fold with the Rafale. This time, the arrangement was complemented by two small forward canards fitted to either side of the cockpit. The addition of these minor surfaces has greatly enhanced the agility of the airframe as a whole, coupled with the already-impressive lift-and-drag balance generated by the overall design. Fuselage material construction is made up of specialized composites to assist the aircraft in maintaining the smallest of radar signatures and features a mixture of carbon and Kevlar components. Titanium and aluminum-lithium are also used in the structure where needed. The aircraft carries a Thales RBE2 radar suite, a Thales SPECTRA Electronic Warfare (EW) system, and the Thales/SAGEM-OSF Optronique Secteur Frontal Infra-Red (IR) Search and Track system.
Armament-wise, the Rafale is outfitted with a standard 30mm GIAT 30/M791 internal cannon which is afforded 125 rounds. There are fourteen external hardpoints (thirteen in the naval variant) for the carrying of air-to-air and air-to-surface ordnance including missiles, precision-guided weapons, dumb bombs, fuel tanks, and mission equipment pods (targeting pods and the like). Up to 20,900 lb of stores can be carried.
Despite only being adopted by France, Egypt, Qatar and (now probably) India, the Rafale has garnered some interest with the governments of Brazil, Canada, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Singapore, Switzerland, South Korea, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While it has not been outright successful in any one of these bids, it had generated considerable interest. Its recent combat actions have served the product well in marketing endeavors.
In French service the series is expected to remain a frontline mainstay into the 2040s.
The Egyptian government has signed on to take delivery of 24 Rafale multirole fighters with first deliveries coming in 2015. This move marks Egypt as the first foreign operator of the Rafale as Dassault negotiations with India have hit a rough patch. The Indian order would constitute 36 total aircraft (the contract since formally agreed upon in April 2015).
In May of 2015, the government of Qatar secured an order for 24 Rafales, marking it as the third official export operator of the French multi-role fighter behind Egypt and India.
July 2015 - The first three of twenty-four Rafale fighters ordered by the Egyptian government were handed over to the Egyptian Air Force. Some of the Egyptian fleet will be pulled from Dassault lines intended for French Air Force delivery.
July 2016 - The French-Indian deal for Rafale fighter jets is reportedly in its final stages.
January 2017 - To date 154 total Rafale fighters have been built.
March 2017 - The "F4" standard was announced which will broaden networking capabilities as well as sensors and support new-generation missiles. Service introduction is scheduled for 2025.
February 2018 - The French government is to close on a plan to order more Rafale fighters for its fighter fleet. The move is to bring strength up to 225 Rafale fighter jets split between its Air Force (185) and Navy services (40). These will continue to serve alongside about 55 Mirage 2000D models. In 2023, a fifth production batch of Rafales is planned to be built around the as-yet-to-be-designed Rafale F4 mark.
June 2018 - Qatar has announce its intention to secure the Lockheed Sniper targeting pod for its fleet of Rafale fighters.
November 2018 - The Rafale F3-R production standard has been approved by French authorities. The model represents an upgraded form including support for the MBDA Meteor Air-to-Air Missile (AAM) and special ground weapons support.
January 2019 - Dassault has received the Rafale F4 development contract from the French government. This will mark the beginning of development on the new production version which upgrades the current F3 and F3R variants with new weapons, sensors, radar and data linkage. The first example is due for evaluation in 2022 with formal review to come in 2024 and an in-service date for sometime in 2025.
February 2019 - On February 6th, 2019, Qatar took delivery of its first Rafale multirole fighter from Dassault. Thirty-six have been purchased and will form the new backbone of the modernizing Qatar Emiri Air Force.
October 2019 - India has officially taken delivery of its first Rafale multirole fighter. The event was held in France on October 8th, 2019.
November 2019 - With consistent modernization in the pipeline, the French Air Force is planning on having their fleet of Rafale fighters serve for some seventy years before a successor comes online.
December 2019 - The French Air Force has announced Initial Operating Capacity (IOC) for its new batch of F3-R upgraded Rafale fighters.
June 2020 - The MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile is now officially operational on Dassault Rafales.
July 2020 - The first five of thirty-six ordered Dassault Rafales have been to the Indian Air Force. The group arrived at Ambala Air Force Station and will form part of No.17 Squadrons "Golden Arrows" aerobatic group.
September 2020 - Greece has shown a growing interest in acquiring the French Dassault Rafale to bolster its fighter fleet amidst growing tensions with neighboring Turkey. As many as 18 Rafale multirole fighters maybe procured with eight being ex-French Air Force examples and the remainder being new-build units. The former would be gifted to the Hellenic Air Force at no cost.
September 2020 - It has been announced that Greece will take on a stock of twelve Rafale fighters in a bid to modernize its aging defense capabilities. The dozen airframes will be pulled from the existing French Air Force inventory.
September 2020 - Greece has ordered 18 Rafale multirole fighters with plans to further upgrade 10 of its aging stock of Mirage M2000 types.
September 2020 - The Dassault Rafale is a possible contender to replace aging, outgoing types for the Swiss Air Force. It competes directly with the Lockheed F-35 Lightning II and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet for the requirement.
October 2020 - To offset used Rafale losses to Greece from its active stock, the French Air Force will be ordering new-build examples to shore up numbers.
November 2020 - French Rafale fighters have begun operational service with TALIOS (TArgeting Long-Range IdentificatiOn System) targeting pods. The pods have been developed, and are produced, by Thales.
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Dassault Rafale C production model)
Rafale - Base Series Name
ACX (Avion de Combat Experimentale) - Technology Demonstrator Design.
Rafale A - Technology Demonstrator; airframe roughly 3 percent smaller than production models.
Rafale B - Two-Seat Trainer Model; multi-role capabilities.
Rafale BM - Proposed two-seat variant for French Navy; redesignated to Rafale N.
Rafale B F3-R - French Air Force twin-seat variant; TALIOS tagreting pod support.
Rafale C - Single-Seat Air Defense Model.
Rafale C F3-R - French Air Force single-seat variant of B F3-R models.
Rafale D - Designation covers B and C models for French Air Force use.
Rafale DH - Indian Air Force export model; twin-seat variant.
Rafale DM - Egyptian Air Force export model; twin seat variant.
Rafale EH - Indian Air Force export model; single-seat variant.
Rafale EM - Egyptian Air Force export model; single-seat variant.
Rafale F4 - Improved advanced standard for introduction in 2025.
Rafale M - Single-Seat Naval Variant; introduced in 2001; reinforced airframe; revised nose leg; arrestor hook equipment; increased MTOW.
Rafale M F3-R - French Navy variant; based in the Rafale C F3-R model.
Rafale N - Proposed French Navy two-seater; since cancelled.
Rafale R - Proposed reconnaissance variant
Values are derrived from a variety of categories related to the design, overall function, and historical influence of this aircraft in aviation history.
The overall rating takes into account over 60 individual factors related to this aircraft entry. The rating is out of a possible 100.
Relative Maximum Speed
This entry's maximum listed speed (1,383mph).
Graph average of 1050 miles-per-hour.
Dassault Rafale C operational range when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era Span
Showcasing era cross-over of this aircraft design.
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