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Dassault reveals conformal tanks

Technical development of the Rafale continues as the French navy begins operations from an aircraft carrier

Dassault Aviation has unveiled its Rafale multirole fighter with 1,150litre (300USgal) conformal fuel tanks (CFTs), which the company has been flight testing over the past month.

Meanwhile, the first French navy squadron, Flottille 12F, has received five aircraft, four of which took part in exercises onboard the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle last month.

Dassault refers to the CFTs as 'fast packs'. They are 7.5m (25ft) long, can be used on single and two-seat Rafales and the manufacturer says they can be removed in less than 2h. The company says the extra 2,300litres of fuel provides a 20-25% range improvement.

A CFT-equipped fighter is on display at the show, and Dassault says the configuration "is expected to interest many countries who have no air-to-air refuelling capability".

Six of the seven Rafales due for delivery to the navy this year have been handed over, as have two Rafale Bs for the French air force. The air force has a requirement for 234 Rafales: the navy wants 60.

The navy's aircraft - dubbed "LF1" - do not yet have full air-to-air capability, and are armed only with the MBDAMagic 2 short-range infrared-guided air-to-air missile. The medium-range MBDA Mica, internal DEFA 30mm cannon and the Thales OSFelectro-optical system are not available. Upgrade to full F1 standard is to start in September at Dassault's Bordeaux factory. Software upgrades for the weapon and navigation system and the Spectra electronic countermeasures suite will also be introduced.

A further upgrade in 2004/05 will update navy Rafales to F2-standard with an air-to-ground capability and the Link 16 tactical datalink.

During the Trident d'Or exercise in May, the Rafale operated with the navy's NorthropGrumman E-2C Hawkeye, evaluating the interoperability between the airborne early warning system and Rafale's Thales RBE2 radar and Spectra system. Performance evaluations included take-offs and landings as well as flight at Mach 1.4 with two 1,250 litre underwing fuel tanks.

Dassault says the delivery of 30 new Mirage 2000-9 multi-role fighters for the United Arab Emirates air force will begin in October next year and extend to February 2004; 33 in-service Mirage 2000s upgraded to -9 standard will be delivered between next August and February 2006.
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