Development work gathers pace at Istres as manufacturer prepares to fulfil French defence procurement needs

Dassault is speeding up Rafale test and development work at Istres, France, as it prepares to deliver the first F2 standard fighters next year.

The Rafale F2 adds air-to-ground capability to the F1's air-to-air mission, and includes a combined forward-looking TV and infrared sensor, Link 16 datalink, digital database terrain-following capability and provision for the MBDA Scalp EG long-range cruise and AASM air-to-surface missiles. An in-flight refuelling pod will be available on naval variants of the fighter.

The first air force and navy F2s are due for delivery next year, and a full air force squadron based at St Dizier should be operational by early 2005. Yves Robins, Dassault Aviation vice-president international relations, defence, says the manufacturer is planning to deliver six Rafales next year and up to 15 annually in subsequent years, depending on the French government's procurement timetable.

Robins says the delay in the French government's finalisation of funds for a second tranche of 59 Rafales is financial rather than technical (Flight International, 21-27 October). "The government's commitment to 294 Rafales is not in question, but it's up to them how many years they want to spread the acquisition over," he says, adding that later acquisition would lead to more-capable aircraft.

A total of 13 F1 standard Rafales have been delivered to date - 10 single-seat Rafale Ms on the navy's Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier form the only operational squadron, and two two-seat Rafale Bs and one single-seat Rafale C are with the air force's test and evaluation unit. Eventually, about 40 of the navy's 60 Rafales will be two-seater Rafale Ns, and more than half the air force's aircraft will be Rafale Bs.

Preparations are under way for the first live firing of the Scalp EG from the Rafale. Recent tests include the simultaneous firing of two MBDA Mica air-to-air missiles (AAM) at two jamming targets, and Dassault has also studied mounting the MBDA Meteor beyond-visual-range AAM on the Rafale.

The fully multirole, reconnaissance-capable F3 version of the Rafale will be delivered from2007. Three-dimensional radar terrain-following will replace the F2's digital database and the F3will also incorporate an MBDA AM39 Exocet and second generation ASMP air-launched nuclear missile capability.

Source: Flight International