Thales close to AESA production deal for Rafale

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Thales expects to receive a series production order for its RBE2 active electronically scanned array radar from the French defence ministry before year-end, having recently completed flight tests using a Dassault Rafale.

The AESA system, which will equip the next batch of about 60 Rafales to be built for the French air force and French navy, is also now included as a baseline offer to potential export customers for the multirole fighter, including Brazil, India and Switzerland.

Thales will deliver the first of two AESA production arrays - now in manufacturing - to Dassault early next year under the terms of a development and integration contract awarded by France's DGA defence procurement agency in 2007. The technology should be cleared for service by late 2011 and enter air force use the following year, the company says.

Thales completed a concept demonstration phase in April using three prototype radars flown progressively on a Dassault Falcon 20 business jet, a modified Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter and the Rafale.

dassault
 © Armasuisse
The Swiss air force has already flight tested an AESA-equipped Rafale (above)

The company says production of its passive electronically scanned RBE2 will cease in 2011 for the Rafale, and any export sale would include the active array. "Now any customer demonstration is with an AESA," says Jean-Marc Goujon, head of marketing and product policy for Thales Aerospace. "We are not afraid of any weakness in terms of reliability."

Benefits of the AESA system include an increase of more than 50% in detection range and reduced life-cycle costs, says Thales, while Goujon notes the design is also free of US International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

"We are clearly ahead of the other radar manufacturers in Europe," he adds, referring to AESA developments being pursued by EADS and Selex Galileo for the Eurofighter Typhoon and Saab Gripen NG, respectively.

France has so far ordered 128 Rafales in three batches, and plans to modify its eventual 59 F3-standard aircraft with the AESA array, says Goujon.

Dassault, Snecma and Thales will submit a best and final offer for Brazil's initially 36-aircraft FX-2 requirement on 8 June, facing competition from the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Gripen NG. "We are the only ones offering [to transfer] all equipment, including source codes," says Jean-Noël Stock, Thales's head of the Rafale programme.

Thales also names Greece, Kuwait, Libya, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates as other possible customers for the Rafale.