Peter La Franchi/CANBERRA


Dassault Aviation is exploring enhancements to the low observable features of the Rafale fighter, and a possible future role for the aircraft as an in-flight controller for unmanned aerial combat vehicles.

According to Dassault military adviser Paul Marty, studies are also to be carried out to assess a possible fit of satellite communications and the addition of thrust vector controls to the aircraft's SNECMA M88-3 engines. The first aircraft is due to be handed over to the French navy soon.

Speaking at the Control of the Air conference in Canberra on 16 November, Marty said low observable features incorporated in the Rafale design had been arrived at after studies into the trade-off between operational benefits versus cost had concluded that advanced stealth techniques such as sharp angles or compound curves were not worth the cost involved.

The assessment also found that optimised stealth technology similar to that used by Lockheed Martin for the F-22 was not particularly compliant with the multi-role requirement proposed for Rafale and not 100% combat proven.

Studies are under way, however, to reduce the aircraft's external load radar cross-section using cocoon techniques. Some additional work is also due to assess the benefit of active radar cross-section reduction devices.

The cocoon concept is based on placing pylon-mounted stores inside radar absorbent or deflective casings that would be shed before weapon engagement.

The casing would ideally blend the weapon with the aircraft wing to eliminate radar cross-section returns generated by the pylon.

Marty also revealed that recent simulations of the Rafale datalink system, comprising MIDS and Link 16, have identified a number of possible evolutions for the aircraft communications suite. Rafale could eventually be used to direct unmanned combat air vehicles and other unmanned aerial vehicles. The simulations also explored the option of fitting a dedicated video datalink to the aircraft to improve situational awareness and bomb damage assessment capacity.

Source: Flight International