Dassault remains upbeat about Rafale's sales prospects, but admits it has lost many potential customers to JSF. "We see a market for Rafale wherever Eurofighter sees a market," says Yves Robins, vice president of international relations (defence), "although the decision of some countries to commit to JSF has narrowed the market a little."

The company sees two types of customer for Rafale, which entered service with the French A«ronavale last year. Some are being countries that cannot purchase US aircraft, but with whom the French government has "good bilateral arrangements"; the others are countries that want a second source of military hardware.

A number of these countries today operate both F-16s and Mirage 2000s side-by-side, and the company hopes that future customers might see similar advantages in operating, for example, JSF and Rafale together.

The company is bullish that Rafale represents a real and viable alternative to JSF, pointing out that in the Dutch evaluation of both types the JSF (then still a 'paper' aeroplane) scored 6.95 out of 8, while today's Rafale scored 6.93. "When will JSF enter service? 2012? 2013? 2014? By then our continuing development programme will have considerably enhanced Rafale's capabilities, and many of the technologies which make JSF seem so attractive today will have been incorporated in Rafale as well," Robins says.

"It will not be like the JSF of 2012 competing with today's standard Rafale F1. Rafale is an evolving aircraft, and will continue to make great strides in its network-centric capabilities and in other key areas."

The company is equally confident about Rafale's ability to compete with the Eurofighter Typhoon. "We have an edge over Typhoon in that we are a bit further forward in our development timetable," Robins claims. "We also have an edge because Rafale was designed from the start as an omni-role aircraft.


"If we see that important countries such as the UK and Italy are devoting such considerable resources to JSF, I think that was can see JSF will obviously be the backbone of their air-to-ground capabilities, and we can ask whether the full air-to-ground capabilities of Eurofighter will ever be developed. We have an industrial edge, too. There are already several countries participating in Typhoon, whereas there is only one, France, in Rafale. More is left to share, and that must be appealing."

Rafale has been a pillar of the Le Bourget flying display for many years, reflecting the steady progress of the flight test programme. The first Aéronavale squadron, Flotille 12, has just returned from a long operational deployment aboard the carrier Charles de Gaulle, during which the F1 Standard Rafale M flew operational missions over the Indian Ocean.

The Armée de l'Air's Rafale C single-seat version made its maiden flight on 16 April, and Dassault is in the final phase of development for the air force's F2 Standard, which will give full omni-role standards.

Source: Flight Daily News