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Dassault Aviation has a long experience designing and producing naval aircraft. Since the fifties, the Alizé carrier-born surveillance aircraft, the Étendard light fighter, the Atlantic 1 and Atlantique 2 maritime patrol aircraft, the Super Étendard strike fighter, the Falcon 20, 200 and 50 maritime surveillance aircraft and the Rafale omnirole fighter have all come out of the various Dassault Aviation production lines and have successfully served with French and foreign operators, gaining an enviable reputation of combat efficiency and technical reliability.


A totally versatile aircraft

The combat-proven Rafale M (for Marine, naval in French) variant is optimised for sustained combat operations at sea, in both littoral and blue water environments. The new fighter was specifically designed to operate from aircraft carriers in the 40,000-tonne displacement class, and to undertake an extremely wide range of air-to-air and air-to-surface missions with a single-seat aircraft: air defence of the task force, air-superiority in a contested environment, destruction of enemy air defences, attacks of strategic targets deep inside enemy-held territory, anti-ship strikes, battlefield air interdiction, close air support of troops in contact, pre-strategic and tactical armed reconnaissance, buddy-buddy refuelling and nuclear deterrence with a standoff nuclear missile. The Rafale M is able to operate either from CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) Aircraft Carriers or from STOBAR (Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) Aircraft Carriers.


Advanced airframe with unmatched payload

The Rafale offers a payload / empty ratio unmatched by any other fighter in the world. This translates into huge load carrying capabilities and, in turn, into enormous fire power and unrivalled range for such a compact airframe. The naval Rafale M is cleared to carry up to 9,500 kg of weapons, pods and fuel tanks under 13 external hardpoints spread under the fuselage and the wings. The number of hardpoints is high enough to carry at the same time a large array of drop tanks, of air-to-air missiles and of air-to-surface precision munitions, minimising the need for dedicated escort assets for a long-distance raid, the Rafale being capable of fighting its way in through a screen of enemy fighters before delivering missiles or guided weapons at land or naval targets with clinical accuracy.
The Rafale is equipped with an ever expanding array of French and foreign weapons and sensors. In the air-to-air role, its main weapons are the radar and infrared-guided variants of the Mica missile and the ramjet-propelled Meteor missile. In the air-to-surface role, the Hammer (Highly Agile, Modular Munition Extended Range) has now become the Rafale’s standard family of precision weapons for a wide range of strike missions against land and naval targets. Precision weapons of the US Paveway II / III series are also qualified on the Rafale. For antiship strikes, the acclaimed AM39 Exocet missile is capable of sinking a frigate-size surface combatant. To attack heavily defended targets deep inside an enemy-held territory, a Scalp stealth cruise missile is carried for raids launched from the deck of an aircraft carrier. All these air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons are in service with the French Navy and are in use on board nuclear aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

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Advanced multisensor, multispectral suite

The Rafale has been fitted with the largest possible range of sensors to offer overlapping detection capabilities in various wavelengths in order to increase the likelihood of an early detection of a threat, including stealth designs. The multisensor suite enables the fighter to operate either in an active mode, with the radar on, or in an entirely passive mode, with the radar off.
At the centre of the Rafale’s comprehensive sensor suite lies the RBE2 electronic scanning long-range multimode radar that can operate in numerous air-to-air and air-to-surface modes. It incorporates an advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) which offers remarkable detection and tracking capabilities against aircraft and surface targets. It is also capable of tracking targets that have extremely low radar cross sections, such as cruise missiles, small drones, and even stealth fighter and stealth surface combatants. The RBE2 / AESA combination guarantees an extremely high level of resistance to jamming and to other types of electronic warfare disruption. The Rafale’s Front Sector Optronics suite is a crucial tool for passive detection of threats. It is divided into an infrared search and track (IRST) sensor to detect stealth fighters and bombers, and a powerful TV sensor to visually identify targets at stand-off ranges.
For reconnaissance missions, the Areos / Pod Reco NG new generation recce pod is carried under the Rafale’s centreline pylon. The Talios surveillance, targeting and non-traditional intelligence pod is now in widespread service in France, but the Rafale’s open architecture makes it possible to easily integrate foreign pods should it be required by an export customer. Both the Areos / Pod Reco NG and the Talios are qualified for aircraft carrier operations.


Data fusion ahead of its time

In order to exploit to the full the formidable combat capabilities of its multispectral sensor suite and of its air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons, the Rafale required a powerful data procession / data fusion system that would allow the aircrews to more easily focus on their mission and on their tactics. The Rafale is, above all, an airborne sensor and Dassault Aviation and the French Armed Forces made sure the fighter could absorb, manage, process and display the enormous quantity of data it collected at any time. Considerable efforts were made to develop for the pilot an advanced cockpit environment that would prove efficient for air-to-air and air-to-surface engagement while being comfortable enough for long-duration missions. Reducing aircrew workload and fatigue was a key driver for the development of this advanced data fusion system that is second to none thanks to extremely powerful algorithms. The Rafale’s data fusion system analyses in real time all data available from the various on-board and off-board sensors: it automatically selects the best data, correlating the information and presenting it to the pilot in a clear, concise and unambiguous manner.

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Supported by the French Navy:
long-term future assured

Thanks to Dassault Aviation’s exceptional success on the export market since 2015, the Rafale has become a new reference for the discerning customer and a best seller in a challenging and highly competitive fighter market. The fighter is in high demand and Rafale production will continue for many more years to come. The fighter is expected to remain in service until the 2060s and the French Defence Procurement Agency is currently undertaking comprehensive trials to extend the life of the airframe even further, allowing the type to remain in service far longer than initially envisioned. From the start of its design process, the Rafale was developed to easily incorporate new weapons, new sensors and new systems continuously, thus helping ensure the fighter remains fully relevant well into the distant future.
Looking even further out, the French Armed Forces are pursuing for the Rafale next-generation weapons, innovative multi-domain sensors, advanced communication systems, ultra-precise navigation aids, and unmanned and autonomous remote weapons carriers / loyal wingmen to operate alongside, and in close cooperation with the fighter. With all these refinements, the fighter will remain fully capable of operating in contested environments and of closely co-operating with current and future allied air and naval assets.

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