France’s Rafale Fighters: Looking for Love…
F3.4+ software upgrades detailed; due for introduction in 2015.
Oct 6-17/14: F3.4+ Testing. The French DGA tests the F-3.4+ software upgrade at Mont-de-Marsan AB. It should enter operational service in early 2015.
The F3.4 + standard includes many software improvements, such as full compatibility with NATO’s MGRS geographic format, radar improvements in terrain following mode, new warnings for low altitudes and unusual positions that are designed to snap pilots out of disorientation, and warnings to prevent overloading the landing gear brakes during take-off. Sources: French AdlA, “Le Rafale F3.4+ experimente a Istres”.
Will Dassault’s fighter become a fashionably late fighter platform that builds on its parent company’s past successes – or just “the late Rafale”? It all began as a 1985 break-away from the multinational consortium that went on to create EADS’ Eurofighter. The French needed a lighter aircraft that was suitable for carrier use, and were reportedly unwilling to cede design authority over the project. As is so often true of French defense procurement policy, the choice came down to paying additional costs for full independence and exact needs, or losing key industrial capabilities by partnering or buying abroad. France has generally opted for expensive but independent defense choices, and the Rafale was no exception.
Those costs, and associated delays triggered by the end of the Cold War and reduced funding, proved to be very costly indeed. Unlike previous French fighters, which relied on exports to lower their costs and keep production lines humming, the Rafale has yet to secure a single export contract – in part because initial versions were hampered by impaired capabilities in key roles. The Rafale may, at last, be ready to be what its vendors say: a true omnirole aircraft, ready for prime time on the global export stage. The question is whether it’s too late. Rivals like EADS’ Eurofighter, Russia’s Su-27/30 family, and the American “teen series” of F-15/16/18 variants are all well established. Meanwhile, Saab’s versatile and cheaper JAS-39 Gripen remains a stubborn foe in key export competitions, and the multinational F-35 juggernaut is bearing down on it.
Dassault’s Rafale: Variants
The Rafale is a 9.5 – 10.5 tonne aircraft powered by 2 SNECMA M88 jet engines, each generating up to 16,500 pounds thrust with afterburner. Canards are used to improve maneuverability, especially for snap-shots in short-range dogfights, and radar shaping lowers the aircraft’s profile relative to 4th generation competitors like the Mirage 2000 or F-16. Carrier capability was a prime motivator behind France’s decision to go it alone with the Rafale program, and variants exist for both land-based and carrier use.
Despite its size, the Rafale can carry an impressive set of ordnance beyond its 30mm DEFA 791 cannon: up to 9.5 tonnes of weapons and stores on 14 pylons (1-2 on center fuselage, 2 below engine intakes, 6 underwing and 2 wingtip pylons), 5 of which are “wet” pylons that can carry heavy stores or fuel tanks. Its Thales RBE2 mechanically-scanned array or RBE2-AA AESA radar can direct MBDA’s MICA RF missiles, and future integration of the long-range Meteor is also planned. A combination of Thales/SAGEM’s OST Infrared Scan and Track optronics, and MBDA’s MICA IR medium-range missiles, allows the Rafale to supplement its radar-guided missiles with passively-targeted, no-warning attacks on enemy aircraft from beyond visual range. At present, this capability is only duplicated by Russian aircraft: Sukhoi’s SU-27/30 family, and advanced MiG-29s.
Rafale Variants: Types and Tranches
The Rafale comes in several broad types, and also comes in different capability tranches.
Carrier-capable Rafales are single-seat fighters, and are referred to as Rafale Ms. They will become the French Navy’s only fighters, replacing the F-8P Crusader fighter, Etendard IVP reconnaissance aircraft, and Super Etendard strike aircraft. They feature the usual set of carrier modifications, including lengthened and strengthened landing gear, strengthened airframe and arrester hook for landings, and carrier landing electronics. The front-center pylon is deleted on this version, in order to make room for that robust landing gear.
French Air Force Rafales come in 2 broad types: the preferred 2-seat Rafale B, and the single-seat Rafale C. They will eventually replace the SEPECAT Jaguar, Dassault’s Mirage F1, and most of the Mirage 2000 family in French service.
Within those designations, Dassault’s Rafales also come in capability tranches that are common across all versions.
Initial Rafale F1s are limited to air superiority missions, and included only Rafale-Ms intended as urgent replacements for the French carrier force’s 1950s/60s era F-8P Crusader air superiority fighters. Rafale F1s are capable fighters, and represented a huge upgrade for the Marine Nationale. Even so, they lack the wide weapons fit of 4+ generation counterparts like the JAS-39 Gripen or modern F-15 Strike Eagles, the optimized cockpit of EADS’ Eurofighter, or the price advantages of Sukhoi’s SU-30 family.
Surviving Rafale-M F1s will be upgraded to the F3 configuration, swapping out the core mission computer and cockpit displays, and changing the plane’s radar, electrical wiring, SPECTRA countermeasures system, and hardpoints. The 1st upgraded plane was delivered in October 2014.
Rafale F2. The F2 standard, which adds the ability to carry and use precision ground attack weapons. This standard includes 2-seat air force Rafale-Bs, single-seat Rafale-Cs, and naval Rafale-Ms. Key additions include radar ground attack and terrain-following modes, carriage of laser-guided bombs and Storm Shadow/ Scalp cruise missiles, MICA IR missile capability using the OSF IRST sensor, a Link 16 datalink, and a buddy tanker pod for Rafale Ms. The biggest thing the F2 standard lacks is integration of independent laser targeting capability, which is why French Rafales over Afghanistan had to operate in conjunction with Super Etendard and Mirage 2000D fighters.
F2 Rafales have now been upgraded to F3 status, which was much easier than it is for the F1s.
Rafale F3. Since 2008, all Rafales have been delivered in the F3 standard, and most have now been upgraded to it. Initial changes added the ability to carry French ASMP-A air-launched nuclear missiles, allowing the Rafale to replace the Mirage 2000N in that nuclear strike role. Other modifications include full integration with the Reco NG reconnaissance pod, implementation of all currently planned modes for the RBE2 radar, anti-ship attack with the Exocet or follow-on ANF, and support for an improved tanker pack.
Further changes were forthcoming within F3. Full integration with Thales’ Damocles surveillance and laser targeting pod was executed, and Damocles-equipped Rafales were used over Libya in 2011. The current standard is F3.3, and F3.4 is expected to debut in early 2014.
The Rafale’s radar took a quantum leap forward as of Rafale #C137, with Thales’ RBE2-AA AESA radar replacing the mechanically-scanned RBE2 array on previous aircraft. The new radar has hundreds of active T/R modules, and involves about 400,000 lines of code all by itself. This compares to about 2 million lines of code for the aircraft’s entire original avionics suite. In exchange, AESA radars generally create roughly 2x-3x better range or resolution than current PESA technologies. Note that older Rafales don’t currently have AESA radars, but they’re expected to see upgrades under a EUR 1+ billion F3R program.
Nuclear ASMP-A capability is irrelevant to exports, but the addition of an AESA radar and full independent precision strike capability will go a long way toward making the Rafale more competitive with challengers like American F-16/15/18s, Saab’s JAS-39NG Gripen, EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon, and the oncoming F-35 program.
Rafale F3Rs features software enhancements to make full use of the RBE2-AA radar, Meteor long range air-to-air missile integration, SBU-64 dual mode laser/GPS AASM smart bomb integration, improvements to Thales SPECTRA self-defence system, an Identification Friend or Foe interrogator/transponder with full Mode-5/ Mode-S-compatibility. Diagnostic improvements will make maintenance easier and more cost-effective, and there are reports that F3R will improve an overall pilot interface that has been consistently rated below the Eurofighter’s. As of September 2013, the DGA started referring to these planes as the 4th tranche (4T), and January 2014 saw a full commitment to develop all of these upgrades for fielding by 2018.
Efforts to include MBDA’s Meteor long-range air-air missiles are underway already, but it won’t be ready until 2018. That will make Rafale the last European fighter to integrate the Meteor, about 3-4 years later than the JAS-39 Gripen. It will also be the only fighter with a 1-way Meteor datalink instead of a 2-way link.
The Rafale remains behind in 2 other areas.
Its new Damocles surveillance and targeting pod’s 320 x 240 infrared array is far behind other international offerings, even with an architecture that effectively gives 640 x 480 resolution. Current performance is adequate, but this gap will continue to widen until the improved PDL-NG surveillance and targeting pod’s debut in 2018 with an effective 1280 x 1040 array. That’s about the same as some rival offerings in 2014, so by 2018, the Rafale is likely to modernize from a gross competitive disadvantage in a critical technology to a noticeable competitive disadvantage.
The 2nd gap is even more consequential. While the Rafale has a wide Head Up Display, an installed Helmet Mounted Display that would allow the Rafale to take full advantage of its wide-borseight MICA missiles remains the type’s most important missing piece, even after F3R.
Dassault’s Rafale: Program
The French Senat tallied the Rafale program at EUR 43.56 billion over 40 years, at 2011 prices. That figure was for 286 forecast aircraft, and the EUR 152 million per-plane figure was similar to the Pentagon’s “PAUC” metric, amortizing development costs as well as flyaway purchases.
Current plans call for delivery of 225 Rafale B/C/M aircraft by the end of the program, which will stop sometime around 2017 without export orders. Cutting production totals to 225 worsens per-plane raises the development cost average per plane, and slowed production will raise actual per-plane fixed costs.
If the Rafale is expensive, it’s also the heart of French military power. Its carrier and nuclear roles are irreplaceable, and the 2011 Libyan operation demonstrated that it has evolved to play a central role in French conventional wars. The Rafale program equally important to France’s aerospace industry, as the heart of France’s advanced military aerospace research. The Rafale has been responsible for significant steps forward in French materials science, engine design, computing, sensors, etc. at Dassault, Thales, and Snecma. Not to mention over 500 sub-contractors. In total, the aircraft is said to be responsible for 7,000 direct and indirect jobs.
As of September 2013, 121 Rafales had been delivered: 38 Rafale-M, 39 Rafale B, and 44 Rafale C. As of October 2014, the total had risen to 133.
Rafale Program: History
Unfortunately, 1985 proved to be a perilous start date for an expensive decade-plus weapons project. The end of the Cold War led to a severe funding crunch. Development took a long time, and fielding was delayed for many years. That delay left Rafales with great potential as a 4+ generation fighter, but limited operational capabilities that compared unfavorably with the planes it was trying to replace. That has come back to bite Dassault, and France.
The first operational Rafale-M aircraft was delivered in 2000, to the Marine Nationale, and the type entered full service in 2004, in the F1 configuration. Plans call for eventual delivery of up to 60 Rafale Ms, delivered or upgraded to at least the F3 standard.
The end of 2004 saw initial delivery of 2-seat Rafale B fighters to the French air force, and 2005 saw delivery of the 1st single-seat Rafale C. The aircraft entered service with the air force in 2006. All Rafale B/C fighters have been delivered as F2s or F3s.
By 2006, the French armed forces had ordered just 120 Rafales (82 Rafale A-C for the Armée de l’Air, 38 Rafale M for the Marine Nationale) of the planned 294. About 70 had been delivered by 2009, when a new French purchase raised the order book to 180 Rafales; but 2009 also saw production cut from 14 to 11 aircraft per year. This is seen as the minimum necessary to maintain the production line, and keeping the line at even that minimum capacity required an extra EUR 1.1 billion during 2009-2014 budget period, to bring forward 17 orders planned for later years.
The challenge for the following 2015-2019 budget period was to finalize the export orders necessary, in order to maintain production while French orders were cut again.
The Rafale Program: What’s Next?
Additional multi-year buys will be required, but absent major export orders, a combination of deteriorating global finances, future demographic crunches in Europe, and the advent of unmanned UCAV projects like the nEUROn, will all compete with additional French Rafale orders. As those orders are squeezed, Dassaut won’t be the only firm feeling the pain. The effect would be felt throughout France’s aerospace sector, as Snecma, Thales, and their subcontractors would be forced to rethink their plans – or even their existence, in the case of some lower-tier suppliers.
That leaves 2 options for the platform.
As the British have demonstrated, one way to improve a jet’s affordability is to improve maintenance contracts. In 2008, the French defense ministry’s SIMMAD signed a 10-year “Rafale Care” contract with Dassault that paid for availability and flight-hours, rather than spares and man-hours. The British approach has been to build toward a contract that makes 1 firm responsible for all sub-contractors as well, but in 2012, a decade-long contract between SIMMAD and Thales made it clear that France prefers a set of modular performance-based contracts instead.
Once the French approach has several years of data behind it, that kind of future cost certainty could be helpful on the export front.
That would be timely, because after over a decade of failure, exports may offer the program a 2nd ray of hope. Rafale versions were picked as the preferred choice in India’s MMRCA competition, and have several potential export contenders in the wings. They need to close a few of these deals – but that hasn’t been easy.
Rafale’s Export Issues
For previous French fighters, domestic production has been supplemented, and subsidized, by strong export sales. The Mirage III was exported to around 20 countries, and was so successful that its export profits could have financed almost 25% of France’s oil imports! The Mirage F1 was exported to only 10 countries. The Mirage 2000 has 8 customers. Rafale? None.
To date, the Rafale has lost export opportunities in Algeria (SU-30MKA – Rafale a long shot), Brazil (JAS-39E/F Gripen NG – Rafale the initial favorite), Greece (Eurofighter, then F-16), Morocco (F-16C/D – Rafale the favorite), The Netherlands (F-35A), Norway (F-35A), Oman (Eurofighter – Rafale a long shot), Saudi Arabia (Eurofighter), Singapore (F-15SG), South Korea (F-15K, Rafale won but politics reversed the pick), Switzerland (JAS-39E Gripen NG), and the UAE (F-16E/F, but could win next competition). Other losses have been rumored over the years.
In a March 2012 statement, Dassault CEO Charles Edelstenne threw its export issues into sharp relief. Translated:
“When one is in a country like India which is an open country and in which Americans do not have the same weight as countries that are their private hunting preserve, we have a chance. And this chance, we got it… The market for the Rafale, it is countries that do not want or can not buy or American countries who want to have a second source while buying American. Now all countries, except two, where we lost, were countries that did not fit this definition.”
There’s some truth to this statement, but it also elides many of the Rafale’s genuine problems. Questionable precision ground attack capabilities for Rafale F1-F2s, coupled with limited integration beyond French weapons, hurt the aircraft badly on the export market until mid-2011.
Ground attack capabilities have been fixed, but the Rafale’s EUR 100+ million price tag leaves it occupying a high-end market segment that has historically been responsible for just 25% of fighter export sales. That price gap beyond competitors like Saab’s Gripen, Lockheed Martin’s F-16, and Sukhoi’s SU-30 has also cost Dassault sales, most recently in Brazil and Switzerland.
Despite Dassault’s rosy projections for the global fighter market as a whole, therefore, their lack of foreign orders has choked expected investments, and started to feed back into platform modernization issues.
It’s also affecting the rest of the French air force. Lack of exports is forcing extra French funding, in order to keep the Rafale production line at its minimum sustaining rate. That extra spending is delaying the much-needed modernization of France’s Mirage 2000 fleet, and is beginning to pose an operational risk for France.
Current export opportunities for Dassault include:
- India (~126). Preferred choice, but no contract yet.
- Qatar (36). Could rise to 72 over time. The QEAF is looking to replace their 12 Mirage 2000D fighters and 6 combat capable Alpha Jet light aircraft, but the growing power vacuum is pushing them toward a larger buy. Competition: Eurofighter, F/A-18 Advanced Super Hornet, F-15 Strike Eagle.
- The UAE (60). Mirage 2000 customer. Negotiations have dragged for a long time.
Secondary opportunities include:
- Bahrain (12-18). Considered a low odds bid. Competition: Eurofighter, likely F-16V and F/A-18 Advanced Super Hornet.
- Canada (~65). F-35 partner. Very unlikely there there will even be a real competition.
- Kuwait (18-24). Considered a low odds bid. Competition: Eurofighter, F/A-18 Advanced Super Hornet.
- Malaysia (18). MiG-29N replacement on hold. Competition: JAS-39E/F Gripen NG, Eurofighter, F/A-18 Advanced Super Hornet, Sukhoi SU-30MKM.
Contracts and Key Events
Rafale F3R upgrades ordered; 1st export contract to Qatar?; Indian workshare agreement negotiated.
Oct 6-17/14: F3.4+ Testing. The French DGA tests the F-3.4+ software upgrade at Mont-de-Marsan AB. It should enter operational service in early 2015.
The F3.4+ builds on the current F3.3 standard’s improvements to Link-16 and integration of laser-guided weapons includes many software improvements, adding full compatibility with NATO’s MGRS geographic format for GPS-related functions, radar improvements in terrain following mode, new warnings for low altitudes and unusual positions that are designed to snap pilots out of disorientation, and warnings to prevent overloading the landing gear brakes during take-off. Sources: French AdlA, “Le Rafale F3.4+ experimente a Istres”.
Oct 3/14: F1 to F3. Dassault Aviation in Merignac, France re-delivers aircraft M10 to the Marine Nationale, after upgrading it from F1 to F3 status under a EUR 240 million contract for 10 aircraft.
Modifications include swapping out the core mission computer and cockpit displays, and changing the plane’s radar, electrical wiring, SPECTRA countermeasures system, and hardpoints. In return, the jump to F3 status adds implementation of all currently planned modes for the RBE2 radar, incl. radar ground attack and terrain-following modes; full integration with the Reco NG reconnaissance pod and Damocles surveillance and targeting pod; MICA IR air-to-air missile capability using the OSF IRST sensor; carriage of laser-guided bombs and Storm Shadow/ Scalp cruise missiles;anti-ship attack with the Exocet or follow-on ANF; nuclear strike capability using the ASMP-A missile; a Link 16 datalink, and a buddy tanker pod. They do not include the RBE2-AA AESA radar antenna, but the jet could reportedly be refitted with that later on.
Of the 180 Rafales ordered by France to date, 133 have been delivered, including Rafale-M F2s and F3s for the Marine Nationale. The contract only applies for the first 10 orders, which were delivered as Rafale-M F1s. Rafale fighters are currently executing missions against ISIS in Iraq, after seeing combat use in Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, and Central Africa. Sources: French DGA, “La DGA receptionne le premier Rafale Marine retrofite” | Dassault Aviation, “The French defense procurement agency (DGA) takes delivery of its 1st retrofitted Rafale “Marine” from Dassault Aviation” | Navy Recognition, “The French procurement agency takes delivery of its 1st retrofitted Rafale M from Dassault Aviation”.
June 19-23/14: Qatar. Reports continue to predict that Sheikh Tamim Ben Hamad Al-Thani’s visit to Paris on June 23/14 will herald a contract for 36 Rafales, with an option for 36 more. The move would represent the Rafale’s 1st export contract, and a dramatic expansion of Qatar’s fighter force from the current fleet of 12 Mirage 2000s.
With that said, the best source is France’s La Tribune. They cite government sources who are pleased with the progress of negotiations, while cautioning readers about the deal’s complexity, and doubting that the Rafale deal will be signed in Paris. That turns out to be correct: France’s Alstom wins a $2 billion light rail contract, but all “a source close to French President Francois Hollande” will says after ward is: “They discussed it. Negotiations are continuing.”
Qatar is a significant customer for French defense equipment, and their support of the Muslim Brotherhood has given then an anomalous position within the Gulf Arab states. France recently sold them A330 aerial tankers and NH90 helicopters as part of a $23 billion global splurge, and are reportedly negotiating to sell the Emirate VBCI wheeled APCs and FREMM FREDA air defense frigates on top of the Rafales. Sources: La Tribune, “Le Qatar veut le Rafale de Dassault Aviation” | Bloomberg, “Dassault Said to Close in on Rafale Contract to Lift Exports” | Reuters, “France wins Qatar tram deal, discusses Rafale jets”.
May 28/14: Qatar. La Tribune says that France’s Rafale has emerged as Qatar’s 1st choice for its new fighter fleet, against competition from the Eurofighter Typhoon and an American offer that was not the F-35 (i.e. F-15 Strike Eagle or F/A-18 Super Hornet – q.v. Nov 26/13). Talks reportedly resumed in March 2014, with Qatar inquiring about a range of options from 12-72 aircraft. The pick is expected to be announced by Sheikh Tamim Ben Hamad Al-Thani on June 23/14, when he visits Paris.
The stakes are high for France, whose recent multi-year budget would buy only 26 Rafales from 2014 – 2019, despite a minimum required production rate of 11 jets per year. The French order would only last until the spring of 2016. Given the contract penalties involved in falling below minimum production, France would be forced to move its own orders forward, unless significant export orders arrive to rescue the production line. Sources: La Tribune, “Le Rafale de Dassault sur la piste d’envol au Qatar?” | AFP, “Qatar nears exclusive talks on buying Rafale fighter: Report” | Gulf News, “Qatar nears talks to buy ‘unpopular’ Rafale fighter jets”.
March 2/14: India. Dassault and HAL have reportedly established an initial workshare agreement for Indian Rafales, after long and difficult negotiations. Dassault will provide the first 18 planes from its own factories in fly-away condition. After that, HAL will be responsible for directing 70% of the work in India, while Dassault remains responsible for 30%.
Negotiations have included industrial coordination, as well as straight workshare. For instance, RBE2-AA AESA radar production will be outsourced to state-owned Bharat-Electronics Ltd (BEL) in Bangalore, while the corresponding radome will be manufactured by HAL. One step toward the agreement involved HAL setting up a new facility close to the one that BEL has in Bangalore, so that issues with radome or radar production won’t create compatibility problems that leave India’s Rafales unable to meet acceptance tests.
The MoD has already spent this term’s capital budget, so the deal will have to be finalized by whichever government wins India’s May election. Which turns out to be a landslide for the BJP opposition. Sources: Indian Express, “India seals Rafale jet deal with French firm” | NDTV, “A big step in India’s Rafale jet deal with France”.
India: workshare deal
Jan 22/14: Canada. Dassault SVP of NATO affairs Yves Robins is quoted as saying that they’re offering Canada unrestricted transfers of technology if it picks the Rafale, including software source codes for servicing the planes. That’s something Canada won’t get with the F-35, and it’s being touted as a long-term cost savings that will let Canadian firms do more of the required maintenance. They’re also pushing the government to declare a competition.
The CBC report goes on to show that the broadcaster doesn’t really grasp the issues, asking about the Rafale’s ability to operate alongside the USAF. France replies that this worked over Libya, but that isn’t the real question. The question is whether Canada could use its American weapons with the Rafale, without having to conduct expensive integration and testing programs. In most cases, the answer is no. Which is why Rafale is a long shot, in the unlikely event that Canada even declares a competition. Sources: CBC News, “Dassault Aviation ramps up CF-18 replacement pitch”.
Jan 10/13: F3R. French defense minister Jean-Yves le Drian hands Dassault Chairman and CEO Eric Trappier the Rafale F3R development contract, during a visit to Dassault Aviation’s Merignac plant. The contract, which is reported to be worth about EUR 1 billion ($1.32 billion), had actually been ratified by the DGA on Dec 30/13.
Key additions to the Rafale F3R include full integration with the SBU-64 laser/GPS AASM smart bomb and the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile, improvements to Thales SPECTRA self-defence system, an Identification Friend or Foe interrogator/transponder with full Mode-5/Mode-S-compatibility, and assorted incremental improvements to the plane’s navigation systems, data links, and radar.
At the same time, the DGA announces the expected EUR 119 million development deal with Thales Optronics for the F3R’s new PDL-NG surveillance and targeting pod, under the 2014-2019 budget. That’s on top of the initial EUR 55 million risk-reduction phase that confirmed the system’s architecture, integration, and development schedule (q.v. Jan 28/13). The French military expects to order 20 pods during a subsequent initial production phase, with 16 delivered between 2018 – 2019. The full program is expected to order 45.
French Rafale orders currently stand at 180 production aircraft, with 126 delivered: 39 Rafale-M naval single-seaters, 42 Rafale-B twin-seaters for the air force, and 45 Rafale-C single-seaters for the air force. Sources: French DGA, “Lancement du nouveau standard du programme Rafale” | French DGA, “La DGA lance le developpement du PDL-NG” | Dassault Aviation, “RAFALE “F3 R” standard launched” | Usine Nouvelle, “L’Etat debloque un milliard d’euros pour rendre le Rafale exportable” | Thales Group, “Thales begins development of New Generation Laser Designation Pod”.
Rafale F3R & PDL-NG pod development contracts
Rafale program to end early in France, putting the pressure on exports; Loss in Brazil doesn’t help; Qatar competition delayed into 2014; PDL NG targeting pod development; Rafale F3R.
Dec 18/13: Brazil. Earlier press reports that the competition was stalled for another 2 years are proven wrong by a somewhat unexpected announcement from the Ministerio da Defesa. Brazil has picked Saab’s Gripen-NG as their preferred bidder, and expects to buy 36 planes for $4.5 billion. That’s currently just an estimate, as negotiations need to sort themselves out. A final contract and financing arrangements are expected in December 2014, and deliveries are expected to begin 4 years later. Dassault shares fall by about 2% on the news, despite statements by French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Driana that this was a:
“…disappointment on a target that wasn’t a priority…. Brazil was not the priority target for the Rafale. We have more important targets in India and the Gulf (Arab states)…. We have good reason to think that in India and the Gulf (Arab states) there will be results.”
The Gripen NG contract figure tracks exactly with previous reports by Folha de Sao Paolo, which means an additional $1.5 billion contract can be expected for long-term maintenance and support. Saab was the cheapest of the reported offers, beating Boeing ($5.8 billion) and Dassault ($8.2 billion, reportedly reduced) by significant margins. Once Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA spying on Brazil’s government killed Boeing’s chances, there was no middle ground. The Rafale’s reported $10.2 billion purchase + maintenance total made it 70% more expensive than Saab’s Gripen. Brazil’s economic slowdown, and the Rousseff government’s focus on entitlement spending, made that cost chasm a big factor. Dassault issued a terse statement pointing out the presence of US parts on Gripens, and positioning the Rafale in a different league. Which may or may not be true, but it’s indisputably true that global fighter buys have historically been heavily weighted toward a less-expensive league. Gripen is within that low to mid price range, and Rafale isn’t. Sources: DID full report, “F-X2: Brazil Picks Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen-NG over Rafale, Super Hornet” || See also: Dassault, “FX2 contest – 2013/12/18″ | Le Monde, “A qui la France peut-elle encore vendre le Rafale?” | Reuters, “France soothes nerves over Dassault jets after Brazil setback”.
Loss in Brazil
Dec 10/13: Sub-contractors. PTI reports that Dassault Aviation and India’s NYSE-listed Reliance Industries are planning to set up a Bangalore facility to produce Rafale wings for India’s future order, and reportedly have the approvals they need to do so. The facility would reportedly cost about INR 10 billion ($248 million) to build, but the ultra-modern facility would leave Reliance in a strong position to leverage additional civil and defense-related aerospace work. That would be a new sector for Reliance, but Dassault is impressed with them, and reportedly wanted to use Reliance as the Rafale’s main Indian manufacturing contractor.
India’s government insisted on the state-owned HAL instead, but Dassault may still see a larger opportunity. If Reliance can produce quality assemblies at a cost savings, outsourcing some production for future orders could help Dassault lower their cost per jet, while meeting India’s targets for industrial offsets. Sources: FirstPost.Business, “Reliance, Dassault may join hands to make wings for Rafale fighter jets”.
Nov 26/13: Qatar. La Tribune cites a number of French export opportunities in Qatar, including 22 NH90 transport/naval helicopters (bought), up to 480 VBCI wheeled infantry fighting vehicles, Gowind ASW corvettes, FREMM air defense frigates, and SAMP/T Mamba air and missile defense systems.
The Rafale has been helped by the USA’s failure to respond to the fighter RFP (q.v. Nov 10/13), and their Swedish Gripen competitor wasn’t even invited to bid. Qatar already uses French weapons on their Mirage 2000s, and their defense purchases are far more straightforward than India’s, leading to optimism that the Rafale’s 1st export sale could take place in the Middle East. If Qatar really does want a mixed fleet, the Rafale’s competition narrows to only the Eurofighter. Sources: La Tribune, “La France au Moyen-Orient (3/5) : le Qatar premier client du Rafale?”.
Nov 10/13: Qatar. Qatar’s competition will be delayed because the US Dept. of State couldn’t get their act together in time to issue all of the necessary export approvals. The QEAF is looking to replace their 12 Mirage 2000D fighters and 6 combat capable Alpha Jet light aircraft, but the neighborhood’s growing dangers are pushing them toward a larger buy. A split buy within their maximum total of 72 is seen as a real possibility, and some observers even see a potential split buy among the initial planned set of 36 planes. The initial decision was supposed to come down by the end of 2013, but will now take place in mid-2014.
Dassault already has a foothold here, and the Qataris are exactly the kind of customer they need to win. Eurofighter buys in Saudi Arabia and Oman have opened the door in the Gulf, and a UAE turn toward the platform could cement it as the Gulf Cooperation Council’s future standard. On the flip side, Rafale wins in the UAE and Qatar could open doors to tougher GCC customers like Bahrain and Kuwait.
The US State Department was reportedly wrestling with a pair of Boeing platforms as alternatives: the F/A-18 Super Hornet, and the F-15 Strike Eagle family. The later group includes the stealth-enhanced F-15SE, as well as the Saudis’ new F-15SA standard. Despite ongoing rumors regarding interest in the F-35 stealth fighter, Defense News reports that it isn’t a factor yet. Sources: Defense News, “US Bid Delays Qatar Jet Competition”.
October 2013: Need for Exports. As France is working on its 2014-19 defense budget law, the need to finalize an export order becomes ever more acute. To meet the French government’s baseline financial scenario, 7 out of 11 planes delivered in 2016 would already have to go abroad, which means a firm order has to be locked in by mid-2014 as jets for foreign customers would have their own configuration. France’s DGA procurement agency pays for Rafales in 3 installments. If exports don’t pan out in time, they may have to face difficult cash management trade-offs. Source : Les Echos, Rafale : le plan B de Dassault et de la DGA [in French] | LPM 2014-19: MINDEF, Legifrance [both in French].
October 17/13: India. Deputy chief of air staff Air Marshal S. Sukumar said during a conference that the contract with Dassault will be finalized before the end of the government’s current fiscal year, which ends on March 31st, 2014. Sukumar is a former flying instructor with 4,000+ flight hours who took his current job in December last year. Dassault was really hoping to get this done in 2013, but the sudden death of chief negotiator Arun Kumar Bal on October 2 must not have helped an already slow process. Source: Reuters, India to finalize Rafale deal this fiscal year.
October 2013: Canada. Yves Robins, a senior vice-president for corporate communications at Dassault Aviation, pitched Diane Finley, Canada’s Minister of Public Works and Government Services, during an Aerospace Summit luncheon. Robins urged Canada to run a full competition to replace its CF-18s and played the industrial cooperation card by reminding the minister that Dassault buys engines from Pratt & Whitney Canada for its Falcon business jets, and promising full technology and intellectual property transfer.
Mr. Robins is familiar with the fact Canada so far selected the JSF without a competition, as this came up when he met with the National Defence Committee in Parliament 3 years ago. At the time Robins insisted on the Rafale’s open design which would let it host Canada’s US-made weapons, though he refrained to say how much that would add to the price tag. Montreal Gazette: Aviation execs seek wide open competition for Canada’s fighter jet contract | National Defence Committee on Nov. 4th, 2010.
Sept 19/13: 4th tranche. The French DGA confirms that they’ve received the 1st “4e tranche” Rafale, a twin-sea Rafale-B for the air force. It includes the new RBE2-AA AESA radar, an improved electronic warfare system, and upgraded IFF. All are part of the “Rafale F3R,” but Meteor missile integration won’t happen until 2018.
The DGA also offers a snapshot of deliveries to date: 121 aircraft, including 38 Rafale-Ms, plus 44 Rafale-C and 39 twin-seat Rafale-B fighters for the air force. Source: French DGA.
Sept 13/13: Weapons. Russia’s Tactical Missile Corporation (TRV) told journalists at MAKS 2013 that they’re negotiating with Dassault Aviation for the possible use of their missiles on India’s Rafales. India bought MBDA’s MICA air-to-air missiles for its Mirage 2000s, and Paveway-II guided bombs are already in use by the IAF, but Rafale-compatible weapons don’t otherwise feature prominently in India’s existing stocks.
The ability to use Russian weapons would help the Rafale in some export competitions, but it doesn’t come for free. Unless the TRV/Dassault partnership develops a Universal Weapon Interface for TRV’s products, and probably modifies a number of the missiles themselves, that kind of integration and testing is time-consuming and expensive. How much less expensive than buying new weapons? And what’s the capability/ reliability payoff if India buys French products instead? That’s what negotiations, and Indian business analysts, need to determine. Sources: TRV Products page, via WayBack 2013 | AIN, “Russian Missiles for India’s Rafales?”
June 20/13: India. IANS reports that India’s Minister of State for Defence Jitendra Singh told an audience at the 50th Paris Air Show that the Rafale deal:
“…is not stuck anywhere. It is the biggest deal of its kind in the world and, of course, a very complex one too. They are talking to HAL and the private sector companies in India as well; so it is progressing…”
In his first Le Bourget press conference as Dassault CEO, Eric Trappier had made a similar-sounding statement a week earlier.
June 20/13: Qatar. AFP says that the Middle Eastern Emirate intends to launch its RFP for 24-36 fighters “soon.” They own a fleet of Mirage 2000-5s, which recently flew to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya.
French President Hollande will visit Doha for high-level economic talks on June 22, and France has close ties with the Emirate, but the Qataris aren’t waiting around. They reportedly spent time in May 2013 evaluating the Eurofighter Tornado with the RAF, and will soon host a Eurofighter team in-country for flight trials. Boeing also remains in the mix. Agence France Presse.
June 12/13: French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian reminds Dassault that they will need to rely on exports after French orders are done. They can’t be all that surprised, given a minimum delivery of 11 planes per year, and the April 29/13 White Paper’s reduction of the French fleet to 225 planes.
With 180 already ordered and 120 received, orders will stop sometime between 2016-2019, probably in 2017. The problem with these kinds of public reminders is that they make negotiations more difficult for Dassault, and may end up reducing export sales instead of spurring them. On the other hand, there have been reports of frustration in Paris over Dassault’s pricing and flexibility; if true, this kind of public reminder is one way to send a message. L’Usine Nouvelle [in French].
May 16/13: Meteor. The Rafale team continues to work on integrating MBDA’s Meteor long-range air-to-air missile in time for 2018, which will make the Rafale the last core platform to become operational. It will also be the only platform with a 1-way datalink, as Rafale uses the same transmit-only system for MICA and Meteor.
Saab’s JAS-39 Gripens will be operational by 2014, and Eurofighter GmbH eventually signed a June 2013 contract with a 2017 in-service date. Both fighters will have 2-way datalinks.
Late May will see over-water release trials begin at the Cazaux flight test centre, with 2 tests (high-g, and high angle of attack) scheduled before the end of 2013. The 1st controlled and boosted launch is slated for 2015. France placed an initial order for 200 Meteors in January 2011, and missile production began in June 2012. Flight Global.
April 28/13: Coming cuts. France releases their defense white paper (Livre Blanc) for 2013, which aims to set their force structure to 2025. With respect to the air assets, by 2025 they’re planning for:
“…les forces aériennes comprendront notamment 225 avions de combat (air et marine), ainsi qu’une cinquantaine d’avions de transport tactique, 7 avions de détection et de surveillance aérienne, 12 avions ravitailleurs multirôles, 12 drones de surveillance de théâtre, des avions légers de surveillance et de reconnaissance et 8 systèmes sol-air de moyenne portée.”
Translation: 225 fighters (all Rafale, cut from 234), about 50 tactical transport aircraft (A400Ms and CN-235s), 7 E-3F AWACS planes, 12 A330 MRTT aerial tankers and transports, 12 MALE drones and an unspecified number of light surveillance planes, and 8 SAMP/T long-range air and missile defense batteries. Note that original plans for the Rafale had involved 294 planes. Livre Blanc 2013 [PDF, in French].
March 8/13: Brazil. Brazil has asked the 3 F-X2 finalists to extend their bids for another 6 months from the March 30/13 deadline, as the Brazilian commodity economy remains mired in a 2-year slump. The competitors had hoped for a decision by the time Brazil’s LAAD 2013 expo opened in April.
The length of the cumulative delays could create changes for the bids, and it effectively squashes any faint hopes that the new jets would be able to fly in time for the 2014 World Cup. Reuters.
Feb 25/13: With Rafales flying combat missions again, in Mali, Jane’s reports that France will designate a new round of improved Rafales as “F3R”. They’ll include a major software upgrade that allows the aircraft to take fuller advantage of the new Thales RBE2-AA AESA radar, improves their Thales SPECTRA self-defence systems, adds Mode-5/Mode-S capable Identification Friend or Foe, and allows the Rafale to deploy MBDA’s Meteor long range air-to-air missile. IHS Jane’s.
Feb 7/13: India. While a French Rafale-B performs at Aero India 2013, negotiations grind on. India’s defence minister, A K Antony, describes negotiations as a 6-7 layer process, which then has to be sent to the Ministry of Finance. There will be no deal during Aero India, as the contract simply isn’t ready. Antony adds that coming defense budget cuts won’t delay the Rafale deal, but an election looms in 2014.
India’s Financial Express cites anonymous “highly placed sources” who say that remaining friction involves industrial issues. The Dassault team that visited the HAL facility in Nashik were said to have been disappointed by the infrastructure in place, and concerned that HAL will have trouble absorbing the required technology. They’re also reportedly wrestling with India’s insistence on giving HAL ‘lead integrator’ responsibility for decisions about workshare with other companies, while sticking Dassault with overall responsibility for the project. The French are trying to use the RFP as a starting point for discussions, while India insists that the RFP’s terms are the final word. Economic Times | Financial Express.
Jan 28/13: PDL NG The DGA commits a EUR 55 million risk reduction contract for Thales to develop the next-generation PDL NG surveillance and targeting pod, as the successor to the Damocles pod. Another EUR 115 million tranche is expected by year end, and deliveries are expected to take place beginning in about 5 years, from 2018-2022.
The DGA touts this as a boost to the export attractiveness of French fighter jets, which is true. Targeting pods have become such an important ancillary that the Rafale can’t really remain competitive without one that meets modern high-end standards. It’s essentially part of the Fighter’s life-cycle modernization plan. Damocles’ 320 x 240 IR resolution is far behind the 1280 x 1024 arrays in current Sniper SE or LITENING SE pods, and needs improvement. Unlike its European competitors, which use LITENING-III pods from Israel, France is keeping full control over the technology and exportability by designing its own.
The bad news is twofold. One is that the Rafale will receive a pod in 2018 whose doubled-scan 640 x 520 array (effectively 1280 x 1040) is roughly equal to Sniper-SE and LITENING-SE pods being delivered in 2013. High design modularity ensures that both of its competitors will continue to evolve, swapping in better sensors and new technologies by the time PDL-NG appears.
The 2nd bit of bad news is that France’s need to do this themselves results in a final expected cost per targeting pod of EUR 10 million, in order to equip the French Rafale fleet with 45. Exports could help boost PDL-NG production, but first the Rafale must win some foreign orders. India, whose Mirage 2000s are getting life extensions, is an important target for both the Rafale and PDL-NG – and a committed customer for RAFAEL’s LITENING pod across several of their fighter fleets. French DGA | Les Echos | Usine Nouvelle.
PDL-NG pod development
Thales MAESTRO maintenance contract; Preferred in India; Not taking “no” for an answer in Switzerland; Rafale with AESA radar delivered.
Oct 30/12: From Damocles to PDL NG. The unofficial site Rafale News quotes the latest issue of Air & Cosmos (N°2305), who says that the Rafale’s future surveillance and targeting pod won’t be an upgraded Damocles pod, whose 320×240 infrared sensor is very small compared to competitors.
Instead, France is reportedly planning to invest EUR 450 million to develop and produce 45 PDL NGs (Pod de Designation Laser Nouvelle Generation), to equip both Rafales and Mirage 200Ds. The new pods will reportedly have a 1280×1024 equivalent IR resolution, by using a 640×560 array plus a micro-scanning technique. Better GPS/INS geolocation will have accuracy that matches the new AASM smart bombs. In terms of its shape and design, PDL NG is expected to offer carrier landing compatibility, and provide a lower radar cross-section.
Oct 4-10/12: Meteor. Rafale B301, operating from Cazaux DGA Flight Test Center in southwestern France, successfully completes 2 successful tests of the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile.
Oct 2/12: Thales and Dassault deliver the 1st production Rafale equipped with the RBE2-AA AESA radar, an air force Rafale C. Aircraft C137’s delivery makes the Rafale the 1st European fighter in service with an AESA radar, though older American designs (F-15 retrofits, F-16 E/F, F/A-18E/F Block II) have had this equipment for several years now. French DGA [in French] | Thales Group | Usine Nouvelle [in French].
1st Rafale with AESA
Sept 27/12: Media are forecasting a signed M-MRCA fighter deal with India before the end of their fiscal year, in April 2013. That’s certainly possible, but India’s history suggests that any such expectation is a very risky bet. Usine Nouvelle [in French].
Sept 20/12: Exocet qualified. The French Navy qualifies the air-launched AM39 Exocet anti-ship missile on its Rafale fighters, using Rafale-M number 27 launched from FS Charles de Gaulle [R 91]. The firing conditions were deemed to be fully representative of an operational mission. MBDA.
Aug 23/12: India. L’Usine Nouvelle say that any India deal will be done as a series of agreements to produce specific items, with the scope growing over time. They also say that over 50% of initial production will remain in France, even after the initial 18 fighters are delivered, until Indian production expands. Beyond the engines, which are very likely to remain in France, the article cites complex electronics, and especially Thales RBE2-AA AESA radar, as being difficult to transfer. India’s failure with its Tejas fighter’s multi-mode radar, which was a generation behind AESA, does lend credence to that view.
Meanwhile, highly placed Russian and German sources say that India and Russia are having trouble coming to agreement on technology transfer and price, and say that the M-MRCA competition isn’t closed yet. The Hindu | IBN Live | Times of India | L’Usine Nouvelle [in French].
July 11/12: India. Indian defense minister Antony effectively ends contention over the Rafale’s selection as L1, the lowest evaluated bid. Replying to the Feb 27/12 letter from Rajya Sabha member MV Mysura Reddy:
“The issues raised by you were examined by independent monitors who have concluded that the approach and methodology adopted by the Contract Negotiations Committee (CNC) in the evaluation of the commercial proposals thus far, have been reasonable and appropriate and within the terms of the Request for Proposals (RFR) and Defence Procurement Procedure, 2006.”
July 9/12: Sim upgrade. Thales announces that France’s DGA procurement agency has accepted the 1st F3.2 simulator upgrade, to the first 2 cabins at the simulation centre in Saint-Dizier. The Rafale Transformation Squadron in Saint-Dizier has a total of 4 cabins, and the 2 upgraded simulators will faithfully replicate the F3 Rafale’s ability to use AM39 Exocet anti-ship missiles, ASMP/A nuclear missiles, the advanced Reco-NG surveillance pod, and the Damocles targeting pod.
The 2 cabins at the Rafale simulation center in Landivisiau will be upgraded to the F3.2 standard in the summer of 2013.
July 7/12: Brazil. The FAB has asked the 3 bidders (Boeing, Dassault & Saab) to renew their F-X2 fighter offers. It’s the 4th consecutive 6-month extension, while Brazil dithers over its choice and the timing of the buy. France24.
July 7/12: Wi-Fi of Doom. Raytheon announces that it has integrated its dual-mode GBU-49 Enhanced Paveway II laser/GPS guided smart bombs onto France’s Rafale-M fighters, after successful tests at Bisacrosse. The Marine Nationale had been using the 250 kg weapons for 6 years on their trans-sonic Super Etendard Modernisee naval fighters, and they wanted their supersonic naval Rafales to have the same capability. The challenge was how to do that without spending all the time and money that full weapon integration usually requires.
Enter Raytheon’s WiPAK. The WiPAK kit consists of a small wireless transmitter in the cockpit, a pilot interface, and a small receiver affixed to the Paveway weapon. Raytheon VP Harry Schulte explains that “WiPAK uses wireless connectivity technology similar to what is being used in laptop and tablet computers.” Hopefully, it’s more resistant to jamming. Raytheon describes WiPAK as “a combat proven system, used operationally on counterinsurgency aircraft.”
The tests open the door to competition against Safran’s emerging dual-mode SBU-64 AASM Hammer smart bombs. France’s air force already uses GBU-49s from their Mirage 2000D fighters, so a similar conversion for AdlA Rafale-B/Cs is an obvious opportunity.
July 2/12: Crash. A Rafale-M aboard FS Charles de Gaulle crashes during exercises with the USS Eisenhower’s F/A-18s. The pilot ejected, and American helicopters picked him up and transfer him to the de Gaulle. The cause of the crash is under investigation. US Navy | French MdlD [in French] | Navy Recognition | Usine Nouvelle [in French].
April 20/12: Refit. The DGA’s Christophe Carpentier discusses some of the complexities involved in the 10-plane Rafale-M refit, which is upgrading these F1 aircraft to an F3 standard that will add precision ground attack, reconnaissance, and even nuclear warhead delivery to their capabilities. The biggest challenge is that the upgrades take place on the Rafale production line, so careful scheduling is essential to avoid disrupting new-plane production. French MdlD [in French]. See also Nov 30/09 entry.
March 30/12: 1st RBE2-AA. Thales announces that they have delivered the 1st RBE2-AA AESA radar to the Dassault Aviation production line in Merignac, France. The radar will now be installed on Rafale C137, which is scheduled for delivery to the French defence procurement agency (DGA) in summer 2012.
A comprehensive 3-month flight test program conducted at the Istres air base has already been held to demonstrate the radar’s performance, and the RBE2 AESA radar was delivered in line with the contract schedule.
March 22/12: Rafale exports. Dassault CEO Charles Edelstenne discusses the Rafale’s export issues, while making the most of the Rafale’s win against the Eurofighter in India. His characterization is unpromising, since it concedes American dominance of the global fighter market, leaving the Rafale as the choice of countries that don’t buy American, or make reduced dependence on American arms a priority.
There’s some truth to this, as shown by Dassault’s experience in South Korea. On the other hand, it’s also true that the Rafale has lost export competitions over price and technical features. Usine Nouvelle [in French]
March 22/12: India. Indian Defence minister A.K. Antony orders the Ministry to probe all of the allegations made by Rajya Sabha (Parliamentary upper house) member M.V. Mysoora Reddy. The Telgu Dessam party representative filed an official complaint on Feb 27/12, over alleged irregularities in the evaluation process that designated France’s Rafale as the L-1 lowest cost option for India. The probe is expected to delay the process by a couple of months, if nothing surfaces. If the claims get any traction, India’s procurement process could come to a complete halt. Read “India’s M-MRCA Fighter Competition” for full coverage.
March 20/12: Canada? As Canada’s government gives conflicting signals about its F-35A commitment, and braces for a scathing Auditor General report about their pledged buy, Dassault’s Rafale may get an opening:
“The likeliest contenders, should there be a competition, are U.S.-based Boeing, maker of the F-18 Super Hornet, and Dassault of France, maker of the Rafale… “In our world we’re already in a competition,” one industry insider said. “(Associate Defence Minister) Fantino himself said we’re basically looking at our options. There’s a team at (Department of National Defence) looking at the market. So it’s already on.”
Despite this report, Canada’s considerable stockpile of American-made air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons adds huge additional switching costs to an already-expensive Rafale aircraft, and makes it a very unlikely challenger. Post Media.
Feb 22/12: UK Rafales? French DGA head Lauren Collet-Billon tells a press conference that the extent of carrier cooperation with Britain will depend on Britain’s final plans and choices. With respect to fighter jets, Defense Aerospace quotes him saying that the F-35:
“…is an ambitious program, and like all ambitious programs it faces a number of challenges… If one day we have to lend Rafale Ms to the Royal Navy, why not? Personally, I’d find that very pleasing.”
Jan 31/12: India’s preferred plane. Dassault’s Rafale is picked as the “L-1″ lowest bidder for India’s 126-aircraft M-MRCA deal, even after the complex life-cycle cost and industrial calculations are thrown in. Some reports place its cost as $5 million lower per plane. Next steps include the negotiation of a contract, in parallel with parliamentary approval and budgeting. If a contract is signed, it would help extend the Rafale’s production line beyond 2021, which is its current closure date without export orders.
Until a contract is actually signed, however, India’s procurement history reminds us that even a “close” deal is just 1 step above a vague intention. Read “India’s M-MRCA Fighter Competition” for full coverage.
Jan 31/12: What is the Rafale to France? L’Usine Nouvelle’s article asks: “A quoi sert le Rafale?” – The short answer is that it’s at the heart of French military power thanks to its carrier and nuclear roles, as well as its central role in French conventional wars. It’s also the industrial heart of France’s advanced military aerospace research, responsible for significant steps forward in French materials science, engine design, computing, sensors, etc. at Dassault, Thales, and Snecma. Not to mention over 500 sub-contractors, all of whom are made nervous by uncertainty. In total, the aircraft is said to be responsible for 7,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Unfortunately, lack of exports is forcing extra funding to keep the Rafale production line at its minimum. Which is delaying the much-needed modernization of France’s Mirage 2000D fleet, and beginning to pose an operational risk for France.
Jan 29/12: Swiss cheese. Dassault makes Switzerland a new offer: 18 Rafale fighters for SFR 2.7 billion (EUR 2.24 billion, $2.96 billion), instead of 22 Gripens for SFR 3.1 billion.
This is, frankly, the kind of approach that has cost Dassault sales in other countries. If this offer is substantially less than Dassault’s earlier offer to the Swiss, the Swiss could be forgiven for asking what has changed, and why the previous offer was so high. Meanwhile, submitting offers after a competition is done doesn’t win many friends in military or ministry circles.
In this case, however, the audience is the Swiss parliament, which is supposed to begin discussing the fighter buy on Feb 13/12. Hans Hess of parliament’s security commission confirmed to Le Matin Dimanche that he had received the letter. What’s deeply troubling is that Swiss defence minister Ueli Maurer told the Sonntags Zeitung that he wasn’t aware of the offer. If that’s true, the decision to blindside the minister reflects even more poorly on the Dassault executive responsible. That kind of behavior goes well beyond a normal political battle, and can create powerful enemies whose grudges are deep, personal, and lasting. AFP via Yahoo | France 24.
Jan 10/12: Support. Thales announces a 10-year MAESTRO (MAintien en condition operationnelle des Equipements B et des moyens de Soutien Thales du Rafale Optimise) fixed-price contract from France’s SIMMAD, with specified availability metrics, to support Thales equipment on board French Rafales.
Thales announced a 5-year base contract for that service on Feb 2/10, but that one was from Dassault, as a sub-contractor. This one is directly with SIMMAD, alongside Dassault’s “Rafale Care” contract (vid. Dec 12/08), and reported deals with Snecma for engine maintenance (vid. Feb 24/10). Under the terms of this contract, Thales is responsible for supporting the Rafale’s RBE2 radar, SPECTRA electronic warfare system, avionics (displays, onboard computers, etc.), optronics (OSF front-sector optronics, cameras, etc.) and communication systems. They’ll also be in charge of optimizing replacement parts management, logistics management, and equipment repair processes; and will deploy technical and logistics advisers to work directly on military bases. Thales Group.
Performance against Libya; Swiss loss; Doubts in Dubai; Bulgaria RFI; Progress for RBE2-AA radar, Reco NG pod.
Dec 1/11: Swiss Loss. Switzerland announces their choice – and it’s Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen. Swiss Defence Minister Ueli Maurer estimates the cost of the envisaged deal at up to CHF 3.1 billion (currently $3.5 billion, probably more by 2014), for 22 planes. The DDPS explicitly stated that Gripen also won because it offered lower maintenance costs that made it affordable over the medium and long term. Dassault wasn’t very happy, though they did concede that the Gripen beat them on price:
“The RAFALE’s capacities would enable the Swiss Confederation to meet its operational requirements with a smaller number of aircraft [emphasis DID’s] at an equivalent or lower cost, as was demonstrated during the assessments… The “Swiss-tailored” GRIPEN only exists on paper. Its technical development and production risk significantly increasing the financial efforts required of the Swiss Authorities to accomplish the country’s fighter aircraft program. RAFALE INTERNATIONAL extends its sincere thanks the 250 Swiss companies that took part in its industrial partnership project in the 26 cantons of the Swiss Confederation.”
The next step is for the DDPS and Saab to negotiate a draft contract, including details of the required matching value (100%) industrial offsets program in Switzerland. Contract options are scheduled for presentation by February 2012, whereupon the package will be proposed to the Swiss national parliament as part of the 2012 weapons plan. The catch is that the buy requires about CHF 600 million in savings from elsewhere. The government’s strategy is apparently to tie that savings program to the fighter order if a referendum is required, and even the proposal isn’t expected before 2013. This means that it’s likely to be 2014 before Saab has a production contract they can rely on. Swiss DDPS in French | German | Italian || Saab Group | Rafale International | Agence France Presse | Flight International’s The DEW Line.
Nov 16/11: What’s up in the UAE? The UAE is either engaged in the mother of all hardball negotiations, or the potential Rafale sale is crashing. Meanwhile, the UAE may be about to cut its planned new jet order and buy more F-16E/F Block 60s, regardless of what happens next. Read “Derailed Denouement in Dubai: What’s Up With the UAE’s Fighter Deal?” for a snapshot.
June 20/11: Defense News’ Paris 2011 Show Scout covers Dassault executive chairman Charles Edelstenne’s comments re: the Rafale & M-MRCA. It includes this important point:
“The French government has made export of the Rafale a “priority” because of the perceived importance of the fighter industry in political, technological and economic terms, and also because of the domestic budgetary needs, Edelstenne said. France has written into its defense budgets export of the Rafale, and if those foreign sales fail to appear, funding must be found from other defense programs to finance an annual output of 11 aircraft, the minimum deemed for economic sense.”
May 31/11: Libya Report. In the wake of a 2-day tour of the Rafale detachment at Solenzara, Corsica, which flies France’s missions over Libya, Giovanni de Briganti of Defense Aerospace submits a report. As one might imagine, the tour wasn’t conducted to showcase unhappiness, but the reports do offer a number of useful tidbits.
One is that the Rafale has now emerged as the multi-role plane it was promised to be, using Damocles targeting pods, advanced Reco NG reconnaissance pods, GPS guided weapons, and more. The other is that the Rafale is now moving France out of narrow squadron stovepipes, and toward the full multi-role orientation the USA began embracing in the 1990s. Lacking American resources, the French AdlA is even being pushed toward the next step of that orientation, where stovepipes break down completely and one plane may fly SEAD(suppression of enemy air defenses), precision strike, air superiority, and reconnaissance tasks within a single sortie. Whether coached or serendipitous, the pilots’ special praise for their air conditioning system, and ability to cite their SPECTRA integrated self-defense system’s protection when flying early missions deep into Libya, are also significant. They’re 2 less-obvious capabilities, but both are considered especially valuable by the Rafale’s most likely buyers in Brazil, India, and the UAE. Additional excerpts:
“Pilots… routinely take off with four MICA air-to-air missiles, three or six AASM Hammer precision-guided bombs, a Thales Damocles laser targeting pod or a Reco NG reconnaissance pod and two drop tanks… [for a] six- or seven-hour sortie… “Two Rafales carry as much ordnance as two Mirage 2000-5 and four Mirage 2000D combined,” notes [pilot] Pierre G., adding that their sensor capabilities “are much greater even than that.”… “MICA is not just a missile, it’s an extra sensor as well,” says Pierre G., and its detection range is much longer than generally supposed…
Transit to Libya is flown at 50% power setting, which translates to Mach 0.9 cruise speed even with six AASM bombs and two large underwing drop tanks… Since Operation Harmattan (the French designation for enforcing the Libya No-Fly Zone) began on March 19, the detachment has flown 2,200 flight hours with over 1,500 in-flight refuellings… Aircraft turn-around, even with live weapons on board, requires only 90 minutes and an engine change requires one hour, although none have been changed during current operations… Maintenance requirements of the Rafale are about 25% lower than for the Mirage 2000, and there is no scheduled or preventive maintenance; maintenance depends only on the type of mission flown, and on the condition of components… detachment commander Lt. Col. Pierre G. says that the availability rate is close to 100%.”
See also: Flight International.
April 27/11: India finalist. After a close call where it was nearly drummed out of India’s future fighter competition, the Rafale rallies. India’s M-MRCA competition is now a one-on-one duel between the Rafale, and EADS/ BAE/ Finmeccanica’s Eurofighter Typhoon.
Feb 15/11: AREOS Reco NG. As the Rafale F3 prepares to take over the reconnaissance role from older Mirage F1 and Super Etendard planes, it is preparing to fully qualify Thales’ new digital AREOS Reco NG pod. The French air force has already ordered 12, and the Navy 8. Now, battlefield trials based on a hundred test flights enabled the CEAM military aircraft test center to validate the pod for basic employment, from land and from aircraft carriers.
The 1,100 kg/ 2,420 pound AREOS Reco NG pod is 4.6 meters/ 15 feet long, and can als be deployed on the Mirage 2000 if needed. Its identification range of several tens of kilometers is 2-3x the range of the Presto pod currently deployed on Mirage F1CR aircraft in Afghanistan, and it supplements high and medium altitude coverage with a low-altitude sensor that supports high speed horizon to horizon photography at an altitude of only 60 m/ 200 feet. The pod operates automatically, within its intermittent, zone coverage or terrain-following modes, and always knows its exact position in space, thanks to an inertial reference system, correlated with data from the Rafales nav-attack system. As soon as the shots are taken, they are automatically overlaid on a digital elevation model, geo-referenced, and assembled to provide a complete mosaic, then stored on a hard disk in the pod. They can be also transmitted to a ground image receiving and processing station in real time, via a high-speed microwave link. The pod can also operate in video mode by using successive images, and estimate a moving object’s speed.
The first Rafale/ AEROS crews from operational units were trained at CEAM in summer 2010. Several weeks later, the system reached its initial operational capability, and is now deployed on the FS Charles-de-Gaulle aircraft carrier. By the end of the 2011, it will open its operating envelope to include terrain following during penetration flights, at which point it will officially be in service with full operational capabilities. Dassault.
RECO NG pod ready
Feb 9/11: RBE2-AA. Thales announces that “a comprehensive programme of flight tests conducted between September and December 2010″ have validated its new AESA RBE2 radar for the Rafale. The announcement makes the Rafale the first of the 4+ generation European fighters to qualify with an AESA radar.
By confirming that the radar’s performance complies with the “Roadmap” contract, awarded by the French DGA, Thales can begin series production for installation into the Rafale Tranche 4 planes that were ordered in 2009, and will be delivered by Dassault Aviation to the French Air Force beginning in 2013.
Feb 4/11: Bulgaria RFI. Bulgaria issues another fighter replacement RFI, soliciting information from Boeing (F/A-18E/F), Dassault (Rafale, Mirage 2000), EADS (Eurofighter), Lockheed Martin (F-16), and Saab (JAS-39 Gripen) re: 8 new and/or second-hand fighter jets, to replace its existing fleet of 12 MiG-21s.
Bulgaria issued a similar RFI in 2006, for 20 jets, but the global economic crash, and Bulgaria’s own issues in trying to pay for past defense purchases, forced a hold. The Defense Ministry has taken pains to emphasize that this is just an exploratory request, and is not the start of a purchase tender. Nevertheless, November 2010 saw the formation of a National Steering Committee and an Integrated Project Team, to draft preliminary fighter replacement operational, technical, and tactical requirements. That followed October 2010 remarks by Bulgaria’s Defense Minister Anyu Angelov, who discussed spending BGN 1 billion (around $725 million) for the purchase of an uncertain number of new fighter jets to replace its MiG-21s, while modernizing its fleet of 16 MiG-29A air superiority jets. Sofia News Agency.
Jan 6/11: UAE. French media report that during a vsit to Paris in mid-December 2010, UAE armed forces commander Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan asked France to renew its proposal to sell up to 60 Rafales to the UAE.
The recent purchase of 200 Meteor missiles by the French government reportedly removed one of the UAE’s concerns. Other equipment like the Damocles targeting pod has been integrated late, due to budget constraints, but the French purchase ensures that this won’t happen to the long-range Meteor missile as well. A partial squadron of Rafale F3s equipped with Reco NG and Damocles pods is reportedly operating from a new French base in Abu Dhabi, in support of deployments to Afghanistan as well as the UAE sale. That still leaves issues of AESA radar capabilities, improvements to the Snecma M88 engines, disposal of the UAE’s 60+ plane Mirage 200 fleet, and possibly airline landing rights near Paris as items of contention.
On the other hand, both Qatar and Kuwait have early-stages programs going to select new fighters for their air forces, and the UAE is a very respected and influential weapons buyer in the region. A sale to the UAE would make a huge difference to Dassault, and the UAE would reap royalties if Rafales with its requested extra features are bought by other countries. Aviation Week | Reuters | UAE’s The National.
Nuclear-ready Rafales; Qatar opportunity; Kuwaiti interest & opposition; UAE breaks negotiations; Algeria goes for SU-30s; M88 engine improvements; ACMI upgrade for Red Flag exercise; Active stealth?; Rafale-M crash; Joint French AF/Navy training.
Dec 16/10: UAE. Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan and French President Nicolas Sarkozy reportedly discussed the potential Rafale deal in Paris during the Prince’s visit. Negotiations aren’t formally on again yet, but this is a form of progress. TopNews Arab Emirates | Reuters.
Nov 29/10: Splash one. The French MINDEF announces that a Rafale F3 from FS Charles de Gaulle crashes due to a mechanical failure, in Pakistani territorial waters 100 km offshore, following a mission over Afghanistan. MdlD release:
“Dimanche 28 novembre 2010, en debut d’une mission d’appui aérien en Afghanistan, un pilote de Rafale qui opérait depuis le porte-avions Charles de Gaulle , s’est ejecté de son avion en mer, au large du Pakistan.”
The pilot was recovered by helicopter, and is receiving medical treatment. An inquiry is being conducted into the accident.
Nov 17/10: Program cost change. The French Senat’s foreign affairs and defense committee releases a report on the draft budget law for 2012. It updates the Rafale program to EUR 43.56 billion over 40 years at 2011 prices, including both purchase and development costs for all 286 forecast aircraft. That’s a EUR 2.86 billion increase from the previous EUR 40.7 billion, and raises the per-plane program cost (similar to the USA’s PAUC figure) to EUR 152 million.
Some inflation factored into this increase, but other increases involved the F3/F4 standard’s technology, including upgraded M88 engines, the RBE2-AA AESA radar, the Damocles laser designation pod, the Reco NG reconnaissance pod.
In the immediate term, about EUR 1.1 billion in 2011-2013 increases stem from the Rafale’s lack of exports, which forced France to increase its 2009-2014 order by 17 planes in order to fund the plane’s minimum production rate. This is an uncomfortable position for France; the period’s orders now stand at 69. L’Usine Nouvelle [in French]
Nov 15/10: UAE. France’s La Tribune reveals [in French] why the UAE broke off negotiations, and the new condition they’ve added for the sale:
“Après avoir gelé les négociations pourtant très avancées au coeur de l’été en raison d’un article dans “Le Figaro”, propriété de Dassault, qui a fortement déplu, Abu Dhabi a récemment rajouté dans les discussions une nouvelle exigence pour acquérir le Rafale. Selon plusieurs sources concordantes, les Emiratis mettent désormais dans la balance des droits de trafic supplémentaires (autorisations de vols) en France, essentiellement à Roissy, pour leurs compagnies aériennes Emirates (Dubai) et surtout Etihad, le transporteur d’Abu Dhabi.”
Translation: The UAE suspended Rafale negotiations because of an article in Le Figaro, which Dassault’s ownership structure also owns. Must have been quite some article.
The new condition will be familiar to Canadians – the UAE wants to double the number of reserved slots for Emirates Airlines and Etihad Airways at Roissy airport, France main passenger hub near Paris. France had rejected this request when it was made recently, as its national airline Air France objected. In Canada’s case, the request was to double slots at Pearson airport in Toronto, the country’s busiest and largest passenger hub. Air Canada objected, Canada refused, and in October 2010, the UAE kicked Canada out of its “Camp Mirage” base, and denied overflight rights for Canada’s defense minister on his way to Afghanistan.
Nov 8/10: Qatar. Aviation Week reports that Qatar plans to pick its new fighter in 2012, and the Rafale is a contender to replace the current Mirage 2000v5 fleet:
“The size of the program is still under discussion, with 24-36 fighters likely to be acquired… The service is evaluating a broad spectrum of aircraft, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-15, Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale, says Al-Khayarin. Saab officials note they also have entered the competition [with their JAS-39NG].”
Oct 4/10: UAE suspended. French media confirm that negotiations with the UAE for up to 60 Rafale fighters have been suspended. Issues reportedly included the range of enhancements requested, and associated terms if they’re sold in future aircraft; and requests that Dassault exchange the UAE’s 63 Mirage 2000s as part of a deal. Usine Nouvelle initial article and follow-up [in French].
Sept 13/10: UAE. Defense News reports that The UAE has requested technical information on the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. An unnamed source cites no need to develop the platform further, which would avoid a $2+ billion effort to upgrade the Rafale with a longer-range AESA radar, better electronic warfare systems, and uprated engines. On the other hand, the UAE has seen returns on such developments before, via royalties when the Mirage 2000v5s it helped to develop were sold abroad.
Defense News says that it’s “not immediately clear why the UAE is exploring a U.S.-made option.” It could be technology. It could be politics. Or, it could just be smart negotiating tactics.
Aug 7/10: India. India’s Times Now news show reports that the M-MRCA trials will leave only Dassault’s Rafale and EADS’ Eurofighter in the race. There is no official confirmation. Brahmand | Livefist.
June 22/10: Joint French Training. The 3rd COMORAC (COMite d’ORientation de l’Aviation de Chasse) meets, as the French Air Force and Navy discuss joint management of Rafale training. They sign an agreement establishing an ETR (Escadron de Transformation Rafale), which would serve both branches from the St. Dizier air base, beginning in September 2010. Rafale-M and Rafale-B pilots will now have a common initial processing and training, and initial personnel assignments are beginning.
Part of the co-ordination effort also involves work at the Istres-Le Tubé air base near Nice. It would take over land-based carrier landing simulations from the nearby Naval Air Station Nimes Garons, which also serves as a civilian airport. These initial improvements will be made during the summer 2010, with the goal of having the French carrier’s air wing embark at Istres beginning in September 2010. French Navy [in French].
June 6/10: Nuclear strike ready. France declares the Rafale B operational in the nuclear strike role with EdC 1/91 at St. Dizier-Robinson air base. The Rafale will eventually replace all 62 Mirage 2000Ns as the launch platform for France’s ramjet-powered ASMP-A nuclear missile, which has a 500-600 km range and is carried on the centerline pylon. Combat Aircraft, August 2010.
March 22/10: M88 upgrade. The first test flight of a Rafale fighter powered by the Snecma M88-4E “TCO Pack” engine takes place for 1:30 at the Istres air base in southern France. In January 2008, French defense procurement agency DGA awarded Snecma the “TCO Pack” contract to improve the M88-2 engine, modifying the high-pressure compressor and turbine and extending service life and time between inspections.
The first ground test of the engine was performed in September 2009. Development engines are now undergoing ground performance and endurance tests, and a series of altitude chamber tests was completed in late February 2010. The engine has been on 10 test flights, and the test program comprises some 70 flights in 2010, with different engine configurations. Qualification and delivery of the first production-standard M88-4E is now slated for the end of 2011. Snecma release.
April 29/10: UAE. Arabian Aerospace magazine repeats long-standing rumors that Dassault/ France will be asked to buy back, or find a buyer for, the UAE’s 62 Mirage 2000v9 aircraft, as a condition of a Rafale sale. The article goes on to detail the Mirage 2000v9’s capabilities and key equipment differences from earlier models; many revolve around the incorporation of technology that was also used on the Rafale.
April 5/10: No win in Algeria. Looks like the always-slim Algerian opportunity for Rafale has vanished. RIA Novosti reports that Algeria will replace its rejected MiG-29s with SU-30MKA aircraft, to complement 28 less-sophisticated SU-30MKs it has received under a 2006 deal.
April 5/10: Active stealth? Aviation Week’s Air and Cosmos reports that France is developing active stealth for the Rafale F5 (2 versions hence). Bill Sweetman explains:
“Active cancellation means preventing a radar from detecting a target by firing back a deception signal with the same frequency as the reflection, but precisely one-half wavelength out of phase with it. Result: the returned energy reaching the radar has no frequency and can’t be detected. It’s quite as difficult as it sounds… This may not be the first French attempt to implement AC on the Rafale. At the Paris air show in 1997, I interviewed a senior engineer at what was then Dassault Electronique… [DID: which became Thales, then Dassault became Thales’ largest private shareholder]”
Sweetman goes on to explain that Moore’s Law of improved processing power may make the project more achievable now. MBDA and Thales have since confirmed that they are working on active cancellation for missiles as part of the Rafale’s SPECTRA defensive suite, and research in this area is underway in several other countries.
April 2/10: Oman loss. Oman, which was always seen as a likely Eurofighter customer but had been offered Rafales, confirms that it intends to buy the Eurofighter. As of 2012, however, it has yet to sign a formal contract. Read “British Eurofighters to Oman?” for full coverage.
April 1/10: SPECTRA. Aviation Week runs a picture taken by the new imaging infrared missile warning system being developed for the Rafale’s DDM NG warning system against incoming infrared missiles – part of the wider SPECTRA system. DDM NG lacks the level of coverage found in the F-35’s DAS, but the picture’s breadth and clarity are an impressive illustration of how far IIR has come. The DDM-NG system is slated for fielding on new Rafale F3s.
March 21/10: Kuwait. The 4-member Islamist “Reform and Development Bloc” in Kuwait’s 50-member Parliament issued a statement against Kuwait’s proposed Rafale purchase, reiterating “…its firm rejection of this suspicious deal, especially following information that the latest technical reports have recommended the rejection of the deal.” The Bloc also cites the Rafale’s failure to win other export orders to date, as a reason to avoid the aircraft. Defense Minister Sheikh Jaber Mubarak al-Sabah, on the other hand, continues to maintain that the Rafale deal remains a priority.
The word “suspicious” is code for “involves payoffs,” in a monarchy that has dissolved Parliament 3 times from 2005-2009, in order to avoid scrutiny of the royal family. In November 2009, some opposition MPs claimed the proposed 14-28 plane contract was over-inflated. In response, Kuwait’s parliament voted unanimously to ask Kuwait’s Audit Bureau to probe 3 planned arms deals with the United States and France for C-130J Super Hercules transports, an ammunition plant, and the Rafale.
The bloc’s claims regarding the technical reports are difficult to verify – a technical defense ministry team has been assessing the deal, following Sheikh Jaber Mubarak al-Sabah’s approval, but its findings have not been made public. Al Defaiyah | Kuwaiti Times | Zawaya | Defense News | France 24 | UPI.
Feb 24/10: Defense News reports that the French defense ministry’s ministerial investment committee has approved a “power-by-the-hour” type arrangement with M88 engine maker Safran. Rolls Royce has trademarked the term, which refers to a contract that pays for hours flown, rather than time and maintenance costs. The M88 arrangement would reportedly include a guaranteed number of flying hours, plus the spares and support required to meet those benchmarks.
The report refers to a “contract” running from 2010-2014, with optional extensions and adjustments available from 2014-2020. At this point, however, it’s not 100% clear whether a formal contract exists, or the ministry has just given approval to negotiate a contract along specific lines.
Feb 20/10: Kuwait. Middle East Newsline reports that France and Kuwait have resumed high-level defense talks to finalize an estimated $3 billion order for up to 28 Rafales.
Feb 2/10: Rafale Care. Thales Group announces a 10-year, fixed price sub-contract with Dassault Aviation, to provide a range of extended services and maintenance support for avionics equipment on Rafale combat aircraft in service with the French armed forces. These services will include “obsolescence management,” which is always a hazard given the short production cycle of many electronic components, and involves guaranteed availability rates.
The avionics support agreement with Thales flows from the SIMMAD contract noted in the Dec 12/08 entry, whose initial 5-year base period is followed by 5 further options of 1 year each.
Jan 22/10: ACMI. Dassault Aviation announces that it has configured the Rafale fighter to carry MBDA’s Semac Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation pod on its wingtip, enabling it to participate in the USAF’s multinational Red Flag exercise. In early 2008, the Dassault Aviation design department in Saint-Cloud had been asked to assess the impact of the new pod in early 2008, ensuring that it didn’t create aerodynamic problems, or interfere with other aircraft electronics. By the end of July 2009, Dassault had submitted this file to the authorities, and received flight authorization. In early August, 4 Rafale fighters participated in the Red Flag 2008-04 exercise.
ACMI pods relay and store position and performance information during exercises, and can also simulate the firing of missiles and calculate hit probability. The combined transmissions of participating fighters creates a complete command picture for those running the exercises, who can also replay engagements to the fighter pilots later on.
France orders 60 more. modernizes 10 Rafale-M F1s; Preferred in Brazil; UAE rumors; Oman offer; Libya looking elsewhere; Crash 2 Rafale-Ms.
Dec 31/09: 60-plane order. Defense Aerospace reports that on this date, France’s DGA awarded Dassault Aviation a multi-billion euro, multi-year production contract to deliver 60 Rafale F3 combat aircraft (50 Armée de l’Air, 10 Navy) under “Commande Globale no. 4″ (global order #4). Deliveries are expected to begin in 2015, at an average rate of 10.5 aircraft per year (q.v. Nov 12/09).
A supplementary deal would cover the modernization of 10 Rafale-M F1 naval fighters to the current F3+ standard (q.v. Nov 30/09 entry).
Defense Aerospace says that the orders have been confirmed by a DGA spokesman, while Dassault declined to comment. Related contracts have also reportedly been awarded to Snecma for M-88 engines, and to MBDA for weapons, but values and particulars were not disclosed. France does not have the same disclosure requirements as countries like the USA, and news outlets have reported that invidious comparisons between the Rafale’s French price and export price helped sabotage a sale to Morocco in 2007.
To date, France remains the fighter’s only customer. Commande Global IV reportedly brings the total number of Rafales ordered by France to 180, out of a planned total of 286 (228 air force, 58 navy). An option to order 9 additional aircraft under this order could return the program plan to 295 aircraft.
Nov 30/09: F1s – F3s. Defense Aerospace reports that French defense minister Hervé Morin has committed EUR 300 million to modernize 10 French Navy Rafale-M (F1) fighters. This would bring the French Navy’s in-service Rafales to 26 F3 aircraft, plus any new-build aircraft delivered in the interim.
The retrofits were originally expected in 2012, but were moved up to 2010 as part of the French government’s economic stimulus program. Aircraft M2 – M10 will be moved from Landivisiau naval air station to the existing Rafale F3 production line, and retrofitted over a period of 12-18 months. When delivered, they will replace 11F Squadron’s modernized Super Etendard fighters, which are nearing the end of their safe flying life.
10 Rafale-M F1s to F3s
Nov 26/09: French Defense Minister Hervé Morin is quoted regarding the September 2009 crash of 2 Rafales. Both recorders have been recovered and sent to France’s Bureau of Accidents Enquiring and Analysis (BEAD) for investigation. Morin says the report is complete, adding that: “It’s evident… It’s very probable, very certain to be a human error.” China’s Xinhua.
Nov 15/09: At the Dubai 2009 air show, Thales representatives discuss the expected French contract for 60 more planes, and export opportunities. Flight International:
“[The inclusion of RBE2-AA AESA radars] is paving the way in terms of technology for the export process,” says [Thales aerospace senior vice-president Pierre-Eric Pommellet]. “Negotiations with the UAE on Rafale are ongoing,” he says. “I’m sure that this will be a very important topic at Dubai. This is the biggest project that we are involved in in this region.” Kuwait is also emerging as a strong prospect. “There have been some state-to-state talks, including on the Rafale. Kuwait could be a good customer for us, but it’s their decision on whether to progress,” he says.”
Nov 12/09: 60 approved. Defense minister Hervé Morin and France’s Comité ministériel des investissements de défense (CMI) approve a multi-year, 60-plane order of Rafale fighters for the French air force and navy, per France’s multi-year defense budgeting plans. These aircraft would be equipped with new RBE2-AA AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radars and improved self-protection systems, in addition to the standard Rafale F3 fit-out.
Order estimates hover around EUR 6-7 billion, but exact costs, delivery date, and order composition will now be negotiated by France’s DGA procurement agency. The multi-year commitment is designed to provide both assurance to the supply chain, and confidence on the part of potential export customers. The DGA itself acknowledges that the presence or absence of those exports will affect overall schedules and delivery dates. Key firms involved will include Dassault Aviation, Thales, Safran, and MBDA, among about 100 firms in the overall supply chain. French DGA [in French] | Avio News | Flight International | StrategyPage.
Oct 23/09: Kuwait. As Kuwait and France sign an umbrella defense agreement to enhance bilateral cooperation, reports surface that Kuwait is investigating Dassault’s Rafale as a possible successor to its fleet of F/A-18C/D Hornets. UPI:
“Obviously,” said [Kuwaiti Defense Minister Sheik Jaber al-Hamad] after meeting with his French counterpart Hervé Morin, “we would be proud to have the Rafale in the heart of the armed forces in Kuwait.” Jaber, also deputy prime minister of the emirate, told reporters he was awaiting terms of the deal from Paris.”
Oct 19/09: Libya. Libya’s potential Rafale purchase could be in danger. Russia’s Interfax media agency reports that Libya plans to buy 12-15 Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighters, another 4 Su-30s as an immediate interim order, and 6 Yakovlev Yak-130 trainer and light attack aircraft aircraft. Reports indicate that a contract could be signed with state arms export agency Rosoboronexport by the end of 2009, or early 2010.
The UPI report adds that Libya is also interested in the long-range, high-altitude S-300 air-defense system, the shorter-range Tor-M2E and BUK-M1 surface-to-air missile systems, combat helicopters, T-90 tanks, and at least one diesel-powered submarine.
Libya has also been in talks with France to buy its Rafale fighters since late 2007. Any signed Sukhoi deal is likely to end the Rafale’s near-term chances in Libya. Libya would later help the Rafale gain international credibility – but through use in theater, rather than a sale.
Sept 24/09: Crash. A pair of French Rafale-M fighters collide and crash in the Mediterranean, about 30 km off the French coast. The crash reduces the Rafale M fleet from 17 to 15 aircraft, and kills one of the pilots involved. Aviation Week | Defense News | Flight International: body located.
Sept 7/09: Brazilan Rafales? Brazil’s Ministerio Da Defesa announces that Dassault Aviation is now the F-X2 competition’s preferred bidder, and the country will order 36 Rafales subject to further negotiations. Subsequent events lead to partial backtracking from the government, as the competition is still not over, and the Brazilian Air Force hasn’t delivered its recommendations yet. The Rafale has definitely achieved front-runner status, however.
This sale would be France’s 1st export order for its Rafale fighter, after numerous attempts spanning more than a decade. French technology transfer across a broad range of projects was reportedly the critical factor in the deal, and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim reportedly said that the decision to begin talks with Dassault “was not adopted in relation to the other two” competing companies. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva described the move as “definitively consolidating a strategic partnership we started in 2005″ – one that would now produce helicopters (EC725), submarines (nuclear-powered and diesel-electric), transport aircraft (KC-390) and possibly fighters (Rafale). Read “Brazil Embarking Upon F-X2 Fighter Program” for more details, and full updates.
June 5/09: UAE. Rumors surface that the UAE, who chose to develop the F-16E/F Block 60 Desert Falcon instead of buying the Rafale, may be willing to replace its Mirage 2000v9 fleet with Rafale aircraft in a $10 billion deal.
If they do, however, they reportedly want some changes to the platform, including engine thrust growth from 16,500 pounds each to 20,000 pounds, an AESA radar, and integration with MBDA’s Meteor long-range missile. Funding from the UAE could help France finance Rafale upgrades, as their key requests are all already planned or in development. where negotiations become interesting is the quid pro quo. A follow-on article in UAE’s The National discusses past licensing-for-exports deals associated with funded modifications to their Mirage 2000 and F-16 platforms. Those deals made the UAE several hundred million dollars when the Mirage 2000v5 modification it helped finance were sold to other countries. Al Defaiya | UPI | UAE’s The National.
Feb 10/09: Oman. France enters the fray with an offer to sell Oman Dassault’s Rafale fighter, instead of the 24 Eurofighters reportedly on offer from Oman’s historic ally Britain. The offer was reportedly made by visiting French President Nicolas Sarkozy during a meeting and dinner on Tuesday with Sultan Qaboos bin Said. Report.
10-Year Rafale Care contract; Dassault becomes Thales’ largest private shareholder.
Dec 19/08: Alcatel-Lucent SA sells its 20.78% stake in major defense electronics firm Thales SA to Dassault Aviation SA of St. Cloud, France. The sale price is reported to be EUR 38 per share, or about EUR 1.57 billion (about $2.25 billion). Dassault already owns 5.2% of Thales, but this purchase will make it Thales’ second largest shareholder after the French government’s 27.1%. Read “Dassault Takes a Major Stake in Thales.”
Thales et Dassault
Dec 12/08: Rafale Care. Dassault announces that France’s Structure integrée de maintien en condition opérationnelle des matériels aéronautiques du ministère de la Défense (SIMMAD) has signed a 10-year contract to maintain the 120 Rafale fighters France has ordered to date for its Air Force and Navy.
This contract follows the nascent global trend toward pay for performance in military maintenance. The 10-year “Rafale Care” global contract does use maintenance payments based on operational availability and flying hours, rather than materials and labor. The contract also includes a commitment to reduce those costs per hour over time, in a similar manner to many corporate outsourcing agreements. Unlike Britain’s fully comprehensive “future contracting for availability” model, however, “Rafale Care” covers the aircraft but not the engine (Snecma), radar (Thales), countermeasures or weapon systems.
Costs were not disclosed, but Defense News quotes a Dassault spokesman as saying that the larger twin-engine Rafale costs about 15% more per flight hour than the Mirage 2000 lightweight fighter. The French Armée de l’Air also refused to provide figures, sidestepping the question by saying that costs were heavily dependent on key variables like flight and mission profiles. Dassault Aviation | Defense News.
Readers with corrections, comments, or information to contribute are encouraged to contact DID’s Founding Editor, Joe Katzman. We understand the industry – you will only be publicly recognized if you tell us that it’s OK to do so.
Background: Rafale & Ancillaries
- Dassault Aviation – Rafale
- Dassault Aviation – Rafale for India. Promotional site.
- Air Force Technology – Rafale Multirole Combat Fighter, France
- Air Vectors – The Dassault Rafale
- L’Usine Nouvelle, via WayBack – Infographie : le Rafale en 19 chiffres et 11 usines. Program infographic includes costs, main industrial sites, material composition percentages, etc.
- Sagem, via WayBack – GERFAUT/ Aircraft Modernization. Gerfaut is/was a Helmet Mounted Display for the Rafale.
- Dassault Aviation, via WayBack – Rafale F3 and AREOS Reco NG: the 21st century reconnaissance team.
News & Views
- Defense Aerospace (May 31/11) – Rafale in Combat: “War for Dummies”. Discusses experiences over Libya. Predictably rosy views, but seems to confirm Damocles pod integration aty last, and notes the effect it’s having in breaking down previous narrow functional foci among squadrons.
- Flight International, via WayBack (Sept 11/09) – FLIGHT TEST: Dassault Rafale – Rampant Rafale. Flight test of an F3 model.
- DID (Nov 3/08) – French President Tries to Set French Defense on a New Course. Details France’s current multi-year defense budget and force plans.
- DID (Feb 14/08) – French Adding GPS to Paveway-II Bombs. In part, to give Rafales their own smart bomb option before French ASSM weapons arrive.
- Dassault, via WayBack (May 2007) – Rafale over Afghanistan. These F2 models lack their own laser targeting, and require Mirage 2000D escorts.
- Aviation Now, via WayBack (Le Bourget 2001) – French Industry Plans Upgraded Rafale for Export Markets.