Mon. Dec 9th, 2019


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The Rafale Is Much More Agile Than The F-35

3 min read

The Rafale Is Much More Agile Than The F-35 – In January 2019, French Defense Minister Florence Parly announced France would commit $2.3 billion to develop an F4 generation of the Dassault Rafale twin-engine multirole fighter. This would include production in 2022–2024 of the last twenty-eight of the original order of 180 Rafales, followed by the purchase of an additional thirty Rafales F4.2s between 2027–2030, for a total of 210.

Despite incorporating stealth technology, the Rafale (“Burst of Fire” or “Gust of Wind”), is not a true stealth aircraft like the F-35. True, the French jet’s wings and fuselage are primarily composed of radar-absorbent composite materials and lightweight titanium. Other stealthy design features include S-shaped engine inlets, serrated edges and a channel exhaust cooling scheme designed to reduce infrared signature.
These give the Rafale an estimated Radar Cross Section (RCS) of slightly above one square meters—comparable to peers like the Super Hornet and Typhoon, but orders of magnitude greater than that of the F-35 jet. Land-based Rafales are currently priced $76–$82 million per plane, only modestly cheaper than the F-35A which benefits from vastly greater economy of scale, though the Rafale’s operating costs are likely lower.
Paris particularly prizes maintaining an independent domestic arms industry and has never seriously considered purchasing F-35s. Instead, France is working with Germany and other partners to develop a sixth-generation Future Combat Air System stealth jet to enter service in 2035-2040. Until then, France is doubling down on the 4.5-generation Rafale by integrating additional F-35-style avionics and improving its network-centric warfare capabilities.
The Rafale is much more agile than the F-35, with superior climb rate, sustained turn performance, and ability to super-cruise (maintain supersonic flight without using fuel-gulping afterburners) at Mach 1.4 while carrying weapons. The Rafale’s all-moving canards—a second set of small wings near the nose—give the Rafale excellent lift and low-altitude speed and performance, as you can see in this majestic airshow display.
However, compared to larger fourth-generation twin-engine jets like the Su-35 or F-15, the Rafale can’t fly quite as high (service-ceiling of 50,000 instead of 60,000 ft), and has a lower maximum speed (only Mach 1.8 compared to Mach 2-2.5).
The Rafale’s agility won’t help as much if it is engaged at long distances by enemy surface-to-air missiles and stealth jets. To compensate, the Rafale boasts an advanced Spectra electronic warfare system that supposedly can reduce the Rafale’s cross-section several times over—it is rumored by reflecting back signals using ‘active canceling.’ Spectra also incorporates powerful jammers and flare and chaff dispensers, provides 360-degree early-warning, and can even assist Rafale pilots in targeting weapons to retaliate against attackers.
Spectra’s capabilities reportedly allowed Rafales to deploy on raids over Libyan airspace in 2011 before air defense missiles had been knocked out.
Other key capabilities include sensor fusion of the Rafale’s RBE-2AA Active Electronically Scanned Array multi-mode radar, which can track numerous targets over 124 miles away, with its discrete OSF infrared-search and track system, which has an unusually long range of sixty-two miles. Rafale pilots also benefit from uncluttered instrumentation combining voice command with flat-panel touch screens.
The multirole jet carries a punchy thirty-millimeter revolver cannon and up to twenty-one thousand pounds of weapons on fourteen hardpoints, making it a versatile air-to-ground platform. Because Paris requires expeditionary capability in Africa, the Rafale can refuel in flight and carry up to five fuel tanks for very long transits, and can be operated from relatively unprepared airfields, unlike most high-performance jets.
What’s new in the Rafale F4?
Dassault produces three basic types of Rafales: the single-seat Rafale-C, the two-seat Rafale-B (the additional weapon systems officer being preferred for strike and reconnaissance missions) and the carrier-based single-seat Rafale-M, which has an arrestor hook, reinforced landing gear and buddy-refueling pod capability. Each type has evolved in common generations designated F1, F2, F3 and F3R.

Big Rock Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

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