Named an “omni-role” fighter by its manufacturer, Dassault Aviation, the Rafale has come a long way since it entered service in 2002. A benchmark fighter at the cutting edge of technology, the Rafale is far from the end of its lifetime.
The fighter has undeniable qualities. It can carry out several types of missions in a single flight: defense and air superiority, ground attack, anti-ship warfare, strikes in enemy territory, reconnaissance, aerial refueling, strategic bombing, etc. Weighing 10 tons, the Rafale is the only fighter in the world capable of carrying up to 1.5 times more fuel and weapons. It is semi-furtive and can take off from a base or an aircraft carrier.
The Rafale on the international market:
In 2015, the Rafale’s export contracts greatly increased French exports. First Egypt (24 aircraft), Qatar (36 aircraft), India, which received the first Rafale of the 36 ordered in 2019. And recently Greece, the first European country to acquire a French aircraft, decided to order 18 aircraft (12 of which are second-hand) and a set of munitions for a total contract value of 2.3 billion euros. A total of 114 Rafales have already been sold for export, and several other contracts are in the negotiation phase. These exports mainly benefit MBDA, which supplies the missiles for the Rafales, then Dassault Aviation, Thales, Safran and the 500 SMEs working on the Rafale project.
A more advanced model of the Rafale:
Last March, a new standard for the Dassault Aviation Rafale entered service with the French Army. The French Ministry of the Army announced the entry into operational service of the F3-R standard aircraft. This means that the F3-R standard will now be able to go on missions.
This latest F3R standard, integrated into the Rafale, offers a host of improvements and new capabilities for this flagship fighter. It mainly enables the implementation of several innovative instruments: the long-range air-to-air missile, the latest Meteor missile, the intelligent detection pod, the Talios designation pod, and finally the laser terminal-guided version of the modular air-to-ground weapon (AASM), adapted to moving targets. The most significant development in the F3-R standard is the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (AGCAS), which improves safety and protection for the aircraft and its crew.
New competitors for the Rafale:
South Korea joins the exclusive club of countries capable of designing Generation 4.5 fighters.
The East Asian country is preparing to produce its first KF-21 (Korean Fighter – 21st Century) fighter in early 2026. Built by KAI (Korean Aerospace Industries), the “Boramae” made its roll-out on 7 April 21, and is built in partnership with Indonesia, which holds 20% of the production.
Its production will support over 100,000 jobs. The aircraft has 65% domestic components, which is a real technological feat, and shows that South Korea now has a superior capacity to design and develop the future technological building blocks for 5th generation aircraft. The aircraft is expected to fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.81 and have a range of 2,900 km. It is expected to carry a maximum payload of 7,700 kg.
A second country showing its expertise in this field is Russia. In February, the national manufacturer Sukhoi delivered the first Sukhoi Su-57, a fifth-generation fighter jet equipped with passive radar stealth technology. 75 other units are currently being manufactured. The 100% Russian-designed aircraft has a maximum speed of 2,600 km/h, a climb speed of 21,000 m/minute and a range of around 1,800 km thanks to its two turbojet engines.
New Generation Fighter: the successor to the Rafale
It is a sixth-generation fighter jet under development by Dassault Aviation and Airbus Defence and Space that is scheduled to replace Dassault’s current generation of Rafales, Germany’s Eurofighter Typhoon and Spain’s F-18 Hornet around 2035-2040.
The model of the new aircraft reveals some features that distinguish it from the current generation of the Rafale. Like the presence of two jet engines that will allow it to fly fast for air defense missions, larger tanks and bunkers to carry a large number of weapons. Not to mention that the new generation fighter will fly surrounded by drones and intelligent missiles as part of the SCAF (Système de combat aérien du futur) air combat program.
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