France zeroes in on lightweight weapon for Rafale

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France is close to selecting a new, reduced collateral effect weapon for its Dassault Rafale fighters, with the need for a lightweight air-to-surface store having been underlined by its recent combat experience over Libya.

Discussions involving the air force and France's DGA defence procurement agency have advanced over the recent weeks, with several options understood to be under consideration.

Recent attention has focused on the MBDA dual-mode seeker-equipped Brimstone missile, which has been used by UK Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft during NATO's Unified Protector campaign to safeguard Libyan civilians from attack by forces loyal to Col Muammar Gaddafi.

dassault rafale, dga
 © DGA

"Brimstone is a solution, but it's not the only option," said Stéphane Reb, the DGA's Rafale programme manager. Other candidates could include guided rockets or a weapon in the class of Lockheed Martin's small contained-area precision energetic load bomb, or Scalpel, said industry sources. Meetings about a possible acquisition were held in late May, and a selection decision could come soon.

Acquiring a precision-guided, lightweight weapon for the Rafale has interested the French military for some time, with a TDA 68mm rocket pod having been exhibited alongside a Rafale at 2009's Paris air show.

A new system would provide a strike capability between the aircraft's internal 30mm cannon, and 250kg (550lb) bombs equipped with Sagem's AASM "Hammer" precision guidance and range extension kit.

"If you want to integrate something very quick and with a very limited firing envelope then it can be done, but if you want to do a complete system integration with a large firing envelope then we would need more time," said Reb.

The French air force is sustaining a detachment of seven Rafale B/Cs at Solenzara air base on Corsica in support of its operation Harmattan commitment to the NATO campaign in Libya. It will also send other Rafales to Afghanistan for a repeat tour of duty, to start on 1 August.