Dassault Aviation has revealed a model of the Rafale fighter equipped with conformal fuel tanks (CFT) on top of the fuselage in a design similar to that projected for the Lockheed Martin F-16 and Eurofighter Typhoon. The company is also looking at the potential of the aircraft as a flight leader for unmanned combat air vehicles.

Windtunnel tests of the removable tanks have been completed. The French fighter manufacturer plans flight trials for the middle of next year.

Dassault has briefed the French air force and the Ministry of Defence about the scheme.

Little details were given about the work and Dassault is reluctant to discuss the increase in capability, beyond revealing that the tanks hold more than 2,000 litres (530 USgal), increasing the maximum usable range by around 15%.

Dassault chairman and chief executive Serge Dassault, who retires in April, says the company is also carrying out an assessment study of the Rafale as a flight leader for unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs), for suppression of enemy air defence, armed reconnaissance, strike and anti-shipping operations.

"For this particular concept, we have identified four main key drivers: a specific datalink for UCAV control, a large on-board processing capacity, an adapted man-machine interface and an extended data fusion process," says Dassault.

The Dassault boss says datalinking would include a video link with the UCAV. He adds that Rafale could, in the mid-term, be equipped with the processing capacity for UCAV control. In the Rafale cockpit, two new lateral displays could be fitted to receive and show UCAV information.

Source: Flight International