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IAF set to get 36 Rafale jets: All you need to know about the fighter

File photo of Rafale fighter jet

File photo of Rafale fighter jet

India is all set to get a proven and potent fighter for its forces - Rafale.

With the inking a Memorandum of Undertaking with France on the purchase of 36 Rafale jets, India is all set to get a proven and potent fighter for its forces. Faced with depleting fighter squadron strength, the Rafale deal is a shot in the arm for the Indian Air Force which is looking to bolster itself with the new acquisition.

While the final deal is yet to be agreed upon, Rafale will give the IAF a fighter which is among the world's best. The fighter, with its "Omnirole" capabilities can carry out a wide range of roles.

Rafale can be used for air-defence/air-superiority, anti-access/aera denial, reconnaissance, close air support, dynamic targeting, air-to-ground precision strike / interdiction, anti-ship attacks, nuclear deterrence and buddy-buddy refuelling.

Weapons system

The mission system of the Rafale has the potential to integrate a variety of current and future armaments. The Rafale has been cleared to operate the following weapons:

- The MICA air-to-air "Beyond Visual Range" (BVR) interception, combat and self-defence missiles, in their IR (heat-seeking) and EM (active radar homing) versions. The MICA can be used within visual range (WVR) and beyond visual range (BVR).

- The HAMMER (standing for Highly Agile and Manoeuvrable Munition Extended Range) modular, rocket-boosted air-to-ground precision guided weapon series, fitted with INS/GPS or INS/GPS/IIR (imaging infra-red) guidance kits, or with the upcoming INS/GPS/laser guidance kit.

- The SCALP long-range stand-off missile

- The AM39 EXOCET anti-ship missile

- Laser-guided bombs

- The 2500 rounds/min NEXTER 30M791 30 mm internal cannon, available on both single and two-seater

- The upcoming METEOR long-range air-to-air missile,

The Rafale's stores management system is Mil-Std-1760 compliant, which provides for easy integration of customer-selected weapons.

With its 10-tonne empty weight, the Rafale is fitted with 14 hard points (13 on the Rafale M). Five of them are capable of drop tanks and heavy ordnance. Total external load capacity is more than nine tonnes (20,000 lbs.).

"Buddy-buddy" refuelling missions can be carried out in portions of the airspace out of reach of dedicated and vulnerable tanker aircraft.

With its outstanding load-carrying capability and its advanced mission system, the Rafale can carry out both air-to-ground strikes, as well as air-to-air attacks and interceptions during the same sortie.

It is capable of performing several actions at the same time, such as firing air-to-air missiles during a very low altitude penetration phase: a clear demonstration of the true "OMNIROLE" capability and outstanding survivability of the Rafale.

Airframe, Materials and Flight control system

The Rafale features a delta wing with close-coupled canards. It ensures a wide range of centre of gravity positions for all flight conditions, as well as excellent handling throughout the whole flight.

The close-coupled canards / delta wing configuration ensures that even at high angle-of-attack, the fighter remains fully agile.

An advanced digital "Fly-by-Wire" (FBW) Flight Control System (FCS) provides for longitudinal stability and superior handling performance. The FCS is quadruple redundant with three digital channels and one separately designed analogue channel, with no mechanical back-up: design independence between channels is key to avoiding simultaneous anomalies on all channels.

The flight control system of the Rafale also offers auto flight in terrain following mode in all weather conditions, allowing the jet to fly unobserved in the opponent's airspace which is an important survivability factor in a high threat environment.

The radar cross section of the airframe has been kept to the lowest possible value by selecting the most adequate outer mould line and materials. Most of the stealth design features are classified, but some of them are clearly visible, such as the serrated patterns on the trailing edge of the wings and canards.

Composite materials are extensively used in the Rafale and they account for 70% of the wetted area. They also account for the 40% increase in the max take-off weight to empty weight ratio compared with traditional airframes built of aluminium and titanium.

The M88: A new generation engine

The M88-2 is a new-generation turbofan engine offering a high thrust-to-weight ratio with easy maintainability, high despatch reliability and lower operating costs.

The M88-2 incorporates advanced technologies such as integrally bladed compressor disks ("blisks"), a low-pollution combustor with smoke-free emissions, single-crystal high-pressure turbine blades, ceramic coatings, and composite materials.

The M88-2 powerplant is rated at 10,971 pounds dry and 16,620 pounds with afterburner. It is equipped with redundant "Full Authority Digital Engine Control" (FADEC), which provides for carefree engine handling anywhere in the flight envelope: the throttle can be slammed from combat power to idle and back to combat power again, with less than three seconds from idle to full afterburner.

RBE2/AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar

The Rafale is the first operational – and so far, the only – European combat aircraft to use an electronic scanning radar. Developed by THALES, the RBE2 radar when compared to radars with conventional antennas, can detect and track multiple targets very quickly.

With its superior beam agility and its enormous computing power, the RBE2 offers outstanding performance that cannot be replicated by mechanical scanning radars.

The radars has: All-aspect look-up and look-down detection and tracking of multiple air targets for close combat and long-range interception, in all weather and in severe jamming environments

- Ability to track targets in, or out of the search domain, bringing the ultimate advantage in air combat

- Real time generation of three-dimensional maps for terrain-following above uncharted terrain in blind conditions. The Rafale is the sole new generation combat aircraft to currently propose such a function

- Real time generation of high resolution 2D ground maps for navigation updates and detection, identification and designation of ground targets

- Detection and tracking of multiple naval targets.The RBE2-AESA is fully compatible in terms of detection range with the upcoming long range METEOR air-to-air missile. The AESA offers an unprecedented growth-potential for the future.

Front Sector Optronics (FSO)

The Front Sector Optronics (FSO) system is fully integrated into the aircraft. Operating in the optronic wavelengths, it is immune to radar jamming and provides covert long-range detection and identification, high resolution angular tracking and laser range-finding for air, sea and ground targets.

The FSO's powerful TV sensor (cued by the Rafale's active and passive sensors) is truly valuable to positively identify targets in situations where a visual contact is required by the rules of engagement.

SPECTRA (Internal Electronic Warfare suite)

SPECTRA internal "Electronic Warfare" (EW) system is the cornerstone of the Rafale's outstanding survivability against the latest airborne and ground threats.

It is fully integrated with other systems in the aircraft, and it provides a multi-spectral threat warning capability against hostile radars, missiles and lasers.

The SPECTRA system carries out reliable long-range detection, identification and localisation of threats, allowing the pilot to instantly select the most effective defensive measures based on combinations of radar jamming, infrared or radar decoying and evasive manoeuvres.

The angular localisation performance of the SPECTRA sensors makes it possible to accurately locate ground threats in order to avoid them, or to target them for destruction with precision guided munitions. SPECTRA's capability regarding airborne threat localisation, is one of the keys of Rafale's superior situational awareness.

Also instrumental in SPECTRA's performance is a threat library that can be easily defined, integrated and updated on short notice. SPECTRA also includes a new generation missile warning system that offers increased detection performance against the latest threats.

Net-centric capability

The net-centric capability of the Rafale hinges on its open architecture, its data fusion software and its compatibility with a variety of data links, which "plug" the Rafale into the integrated battlespace.

A secure high-rate data link is provided to share data in combined air operations in real time with other aircraft in the formation, airborne and surface command and control centres, tactical air controllers or other friendly assets.

As a net-centric capable asset, the Rafale can exchange images. The Rover ("Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver") allows aircrews and forward air controllers on the ground to share videos or images of the target. It helps prevent blue-on-blue incidents and collateral damage, a decisive advantage in peacekeeping operations.

DAMOCLES and TALIOS: Laser designation pods

The DAMOCLES laser designator pod brings full day and night laser designation capability to the Rafale, with metric precision. It permits laser-guided weapons to be delivered at stand-off range and altitude.

The IR sensor of the DAMOCLES pod operates in the mid-wave infrared band, allowing it to retain its effectiveness in warm and / or humid conditions. DAMOCLES is interoperable with all existing laser-guided weapons.

TALIOS will be a new generation multifunction targeting pod.

AREOS: Recce pod with Quick Analysis Capability

THALES AREOS reconnaissance system is a high-tech, day and night equipment. It can be used in a wide range of scenarios, from stand-off distance at high altitude down to high speed and extremely low-level.

To shorten the intelligence gathering cycle and accelerate the tempo of operations, the AREOS pod is fitted with a data link which allows high resolution images to be transmitted back to military decision makers in real time.

The outstanding performance of AREOS in stand-off reconnaissance makes it a sensor with a true pre-strategic value.

Rafale's "multi-sensor data fusion" process runs on data provided by all the sensors of the aircraft. The "multi-sensor data fusion" concept implemented into the Rafale allows the pilot to act as a true "tactical decision maker", rather than being only a sensor operator.

The core of these enhanced capabilities of the Rafale lies in a new "Modular Data Processing Unit" (MDPU) incorporating "commercial off the shelf" (COTS) elements. It is composed of up to 19 flight "line-replaceable units" (LRUs), with 18 of them individually providing 50 times the processing power of a typical mission computer employed in previous generation fighters.

The MDPU is the cornerstone of the upgradeability of the Rafale. It allows a seamless integration of new weapons and new capabilities to maintain the warfighting relevance of the Rafale over the years as tactical requirements evolve, and as the computer industry keeps rolling out new generations of processors and software.

The "multi-sensor data fusion" provides a link between the battlespace surrounding the aircraft and the pilot's brain with its unique ability to grasp the outcome of tactical situations and make sensible decisions.

It hinges on the computing power of the MDPU to process data from the RBE2-AESA radar, the "Front Sector Optronic" (FSO) system, the SPECTRA EW system, the IFF, the MICA infrared seekers, and the data link.

Multi-sensor data fusion

Implementation of the "multi-sensor data fusion" into the Rafale translates into accurate, reliable and strong tracks, uncluttered displays, reduced pilot workload, quicker pilot response, and eventually into increased situational awareness.

It is a full automated process carried out in three steps:

Man-Machine Interface (MMI)

A very easy to use pilot interface (MMI), combining the "Hands on Throttle and Stick" (HOTAS) control concept with touch screens relies on a highly integrated suite of equipment with the following capabilities:

- For short-term actions, head-up flying using a wide-field-of-view holographic "Head-up Display" (HUD),

- For medium and long-term actions, analysis of the tactical situation as a whole (the "big picture"), using a multi-image "Head-Level Display" (HLD). The HLD picture is focused at the same distance as the HUD picture to allow for fast eye transitions between head-up and head-down displays and the external world's view,

- Management of system resources via the left and right colour touch screens.

The comprehensive design of the cockpit provides for everything that aircrews can expect from an "OMNIROLE" fighter: a wide field of view at the front, on both sides, and at the rear, a superior agility, an increased G-protection with 29° tilted seats, and an efficient air conditioning system demonstrated under all climates.

Specifications and performance data
Wing span 10.90 m
Length 15.30 m
Height 5.30 m
Overall empty weight 10 t (22,000 lbs)
Maximum take-off weight 24.5 t (54,000 lbs)
Fuel (internal) 4.7 t (10,300 lbs)
Fuel (external) up to 6.7 t (14,700 lbs)
External load 9.5 t (21,000 lbs)
Store stations:
Total 14
Heavy-wet 5
Max. thrust 2 x 7.5 t
Limit load factors -3.2 g / +9 g
Max. speed M = 1.8 / 750 knots
Approach speed less than 120 knots
Landing ground run 450 m (1,500 ft) without drag-chute
Service ceiling 50,000 ft
first published:January 25, 2016, 17:13 IST